Pamela Chan, M.Ed/Editorial
In 2.5 months, teens and tweens across BC will be set loose and left to their own devices to go out and about, and stay safe in broken post-worst of the pandemic communities, where these days there is a higher chance to encounter aggressive behaviour. We have to be realistic about the level of brokenness in our communities. Many of these youth come from some socio economic backgrounds that make them more at risk. They walk alone more. Take transit more – to summer jobs, for example. Hang out in public spaces more. Don’t go away to Day or Away camps or vacations, or go anywhere for that matter. They can be seen riding on scooters going down the middle of busy streets, or sitting in front of rec centres and librairies, and in parkades. There’s no one around to advise them about safe street habits or ask them to join into programmes or opportunities that might be more interesting and stimulating than passing away the time.
In August, 2021, youth were near an outdoor basketball court in Coquitlam when a 20 year old was murdered. A year later on an outdoor basketball court in a nearby neighbourhood, two youth were bear sprayed by other youth who were strangers to them. Bear spray can cause permanent eye damage and eyesight loss.
Youth might know and cross paths with other youth in their school or community who are involved in gang activity. Vulnerable youth are also recruited by young gang members who befriend them in places like street ball games. Or even if these youth aren’t interested to join a gang, there is a chance that they could be approached by individuals who move in dangerous circles.
Will Cities/BCEd offices/youth support services/law enforcement develop a talk for youth that could help them to know how to stay safe? Please see an in person example from the City of Chicago below that promotes citizen engagement. It’s not the same format of talk – with the same goal – but it’s an example of engaging directly with youth.
A video/presentation/live Q &A could be broadcast into upper Elementary/ Middle/High School aged students right into their classrooms. It would give youth an understanding of the risks that currently exist in our community and how to mitigate against them. Whether it’s knives, guns, bear spray, gang members and their drug/criminal related activity and grooming of youth etc., there’s a lot to discuss. Specifically, I am suggesting information that is above and beyond what you can find yourself online.
How do you spot early signs of trouble?
Which spaces are risky and when?
What do you do if trouble walks your way?
How can you spot young gang recruiters or youth that are involved in gangs? Can they be easily spotted or is it difficult to know?
How can you disentangle yourself safely from a situation? (An Abbotsford youth tried to get away from trouble on a bus recently and preliminary media reports suggest he was killed as he tried to leave.)
What if you get caught up in a group incident? Or you’re approached on a moving bus, or enclosed in a moving Skytrain? BTW I’ve been assaulted on a Japanese train and on a YVR bus. I know what happens when people try to help and I know about the bystander effect too, when people don’t help. These are tricky questions that have possible solutions that aren’t so obvious. These are prospects that have been all to real for me, personally.
I am also specifically inviting law enforcement agencies to create engaging social media content that will invite youth to engage. How about creating focussed topics/videos on TikTok, where youth spend a lot of time? See the Norwegian Police’s TikTok and New Zealand Police’s YouTube channel for ideas about tone, content and style.
Some parents will say “don’t scare them” but teens/tweens aren’t clueless. They will all know by noon today that there was a knife incident and lockdown at a Nanaimo school yesterday. That’s not scare mongering or sensationalist news reporting. These are the basic facts. What’s the alternative? Don’t tell the public anything? Youth choose to stay informed. And they do.
Which agency is going to take the lead on this one? Don’t be the office that could and should but barely does or doesn’t. Bits and bytes of info to the 6 o’clock news – that GenZ doesn’t watch – isn’t enough.
Over to you!
In the video below, the City of Chicago informs youth participants about what is being done or what is planned, and asks to hear from youth, while engaging as thought partners. Could you hold this type of event in your community?