The BBC, anticipating the upcoming school holidays in the UK – lasting several weeks – has a news item up about the soaring cost of providing facilities for children to give them something to do. The story does not address the crucial question of why the cost is soaring. Is it increased regulation of child-care staff, or what? But beyond that, there clearly is a problem here, particularly for youngsters who are entering their teens and quickly find themselves getting bored after the first flush of pleasure of having free time wears off. When I was a kid, I was incredibly lucky to be brought up in a part of the world where I could help my parents run our family farm. At the age of 13 or 14 I was allowed to drive some of the farm machinery during the annual harvest. Under current UK health and safety regulations, all this would be made illegal, I suspect. I was paid an actual weekly wage based on the hours I worked on the farm. I remember thinking how cool that was. Many of my mates at school had summer jobs of various kinds, played some sports, went biking up to the coast, etc.
It seems to me that in part of the discussion about what “should be done” about feral kids armed with knives, there ought to be a recognition that one of the main problems that young people face in and outside school is boredom. And that can be cured, possibly, by working. We have to overcome our strange squeamishness over the employment of minors in actual jobs. I think that the rules and regulatory burdens should be relaxed so that apprenticeships become much easier for an employer to provide. I think some, if not all, of the young tearaways who are so worrying policymakers might actually feel proud of having a job, of earning money, of being able to brag about this to their lazier friends.
And please, dear commenters, do not tell me that all this is optimistic pie-in-the-sky speculation. We have a significant problem in the UK of young people who are a, being forced to stay in school well beyond the age at which they wish and can learn anything, and b, denied the opportunity to work, and c, becoming attracted to the fake charms of gangs and violence. By rejecting our horror of teen-labour, we might help to fix some of these problems.