First impressions matter. So does the language we use.

This is particularly the case in services dealing with troubled teenagers.

Get tons more content, including video and audio posts, for a small monthly subscription on Jonny 24/7 – here…

Why “child” is better…


Young people, particularly those who offend, cause all kinds of problems. For their family. For the public. For the professionals who work with them. And for themselves.

This is a given.

But these problems also cause people to view such teenagers negatively. To look down on them and to judge them.

In my view, our use of language can help dilute this negativity. It also has number of other advantages.

“Young people…”

If I were sitting with a group of teenagers I would use the term “young people” without concern.

Indeed there are some real positives about this:

– Accuracy – teenagers are acutely aware of not being either a young child or an adult. They are the inbetweenies! The term “young people” recognises this without over-emphasising it!

– Respect – this is key to engagement and to affording teenagers a sense that we take them seriously whilst acknowledging both their relative youth (they’re not adults yet) and their relative maturity (they’re no longer little children).

There can also be merit in using the term in documents, posters, leaflets, etc. Especially if we want young people themselves to take notice.

Get posts like this sent direct to your inbox – it’s FREE! Click here…

So what are the downsides?

This is principally about non-professional audiences – people who don’t work with teenagers or have any sense of investment in serving them. But it also applies to those professionals who tend to take a more punitive approach.

For example, I heard someone say “these are not children anymore, they are young people”… They went on to say that we should treat them more like adults.

– Justifying punitive approaches – using the term in this way tends to be part of a wider narrative that is seeking a more strident or punitive approach, particularly to offending.

In this way, the term is part of an argument that seeks to distance itself from children and tries to justify treating teenagers more like grown-ups. This plays into the lack of empathy and patience already felt by lots of people when it comes to troublesome adolescents.

– The adultification of children – adults are responsible for their actions and can expect to be dealt with accordingly. Using “young people” as a label allows and even facilitates this.

Using the term “child” or “children” confronts this passively. It also makes those who want to punish and judge feel uncomfortable. It challenges the need for retribution!

Click here for a free copy of my ebook, “Connecting With Troubled Young People”

“Yes, they’re children, but…”

In the UK the age of adulthood is 18. Anyone below this is still a child.

As such they have certain rights and can expect to be treated as minors.

Of course, we rightly expect that children increase in maturity as they approach adulthood. This brings with it an understandable belief that they also have the capacity to be more responsible.

But…

This assumes a normal developmental journey. It assumes the child has:

– Parent/s – someone who can provide consistent, nurturing care

– Food – meals that come regularly and provide the necessary nutrition for a growing child

– Safety – the space to develop without danger and begin exploring the world

– Role models – who exemplify how to be a person with rights and responsibilities

– Boundaries – those crucial fences within which children can explore and learn about the world

But we all know that many of the kids we work with have lacked some or all of these.

Without them a child cannot assume either the maturity or the sense of responsibility we would normally expect.

Never miss another blog post – click here, it’s easy and it’s free…

“Child” or “children”…

Use of the word “child” or “children” recognises their chronological age – they’re not 18 yet.

It also gives credit to those teenagers whose journey of development has been impaired by adverse childhood experiences.

Final word…

As those committed to the rights of troubled children and young people, we want to do everything we can to ensure they have the best chance of success.

Language may be a little thing. But employing terms that are both helpful and accurate can have a big impact on those not quite as patient and empathic as us!

Get the audio versions of my newer blog posts on Jonny 24/7 – here…

What do you think?…

Do you agree that using the terms”child” or “children” can help further the rights of troubled kids?

Please let me know your thoughts…   Leave a comment below or click here.

Related previous posts:

– Why we need to get back to “child protection…

– Child first, offender second…

– It’s not about the offending – a new approach to youth justice…

– How to teach empathy to troubled teens – No.1 

– How to teach empathy to troubled teens – No. 2

– Crime & punishment 3 – “Give a Damn!”

– Crime & punishment 2 – Cause & Effect…

– Crime & punishment 1 – Why punishment isn’t enough…

– Troubled youth: re-writing the ending…

More info…

– Adverse childhood experiences – great research from Public Health Wales…

– Latest Youth Justice statistics from the Youth Justice Board

Never miss another blog post – click here, it’s easy and it’s free…

Pass it on…

You can subscribe to this website by clicking here. I normally send out just one blog post a week. Your information is safe and you can unsubscribe anytime very easily.

You can also “Like” this site on Facebook and “Follow” on Twitter, Google+ or Pinterest or connect with me on LinkedIn.

© Jonny Matthew 2017

Disclosure of material connection: The above books link is an “affiliate link.” This means that if you click the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers.