In Defence of The Bad Boys

Charlotte Steggz

I was with a student recently, giving him a mock interview. The student sat down opposite me, his coat still on, zipped up to cover his mouth. He avoided eye contact at all costs.

“So, can you tell me a little bit about yourself?”

“Uhm…not really”

Ugh, it was going to be a tricky one. Sometimes those 15 minutes fly by and you want more time with the student, sometimes it feels like 15 years.

“Ok…can you tell me a little bit about your work experience placement”

The boy shrugs. “It’s in a shop”.

I then decided to switch things up a gear. I asked him what’s the most challenging thing in his life. He proceeded to tell me about something in his home life that is really tough. He’s not mistreated, or in any danger, but it’s just that life has dealt a tough hand to him and his family.

Keeping in mind that this was meant to be an interview, not a counselling session, I didn’t pry too deeply, but at the end of the interview, I told him that no matter how tough our deal is in life, we need to work to make things better. When we meet someone who can help, we need to look proactive, lean forward. Take that bloody coat off. I told him he has strengths and amazing qualities inside him that I wasn’t able to find this time because he had his wall up – that next time, he needs to show this off. Stand up and be counted.

I’ve noticed through my work with young people that if a girl is troubled, she might play up, but she’ll often tell someone about what’s going on. Boys, on the other hand will just play up and also put that wall up. Even when they do, we are probably much less likely to take that into consideration when we interact with them than if they were a girl.

In the same way that a white killer is “troubled, with mental health issues” but a Muslim killer is a “terrorist”, we treat and interact with young people with challenges is often different depending on if they’re a boy or a girl.

In Cambridge, there’s a restaurant on a bus – a really neat idea, and the food looks amazing there. It’s on my “to-do” list, but the past couple of times I’ve tried to go, my plans have been thwarted because they keep getting broken into. Being a double decker bus parked in the carpark of a shopping centre, there’s not much protecting it from people who really want to steal stuff.

The last break in was heart breaking. Not only was all the food and equipment taken or ruined, but they had stolen a precious magnet from the fridge in the kitchen, given to the owner by his grandma before she passed away.

A few weeks ago, on Instagram the restaurant gave an update, saying that the shopping centre CCTV had picked up the thieves and that they had caught “the bad guys” – a group of teen boys.

It broke my heart. While what the boys did was terrible, are they themselves really bad? Or are they the product of a world that expects the worst from boys and doesn’t give them a chance when they can’t cope with what life has given them?

In a world of initiatives promoting girls into science, non-white young people into higher education, and pretty much anyone who isn’t a young white boy into things that they, apparently, get so easily, it can be easy to feel like the world doesn’t want you to do well.

We can tell Generic White Man that he doesn’t understand his privilege until the cows come home – if he doesn’t connect with that narrative then he is going to want to strike out. Make actions that take things back to when he felt safer. And ultimately we’re going to miss out on what could be a really awesome adult in our working world.

When I read the restaurant call the boys “bad guys”, I told them that we can’t judge people we don’t know – what they did was wrong, but we don’t know their realities. I told them that instead of getting angry at them, maybe they’d like to offer work experience to the guys. Get them to work off their debt to them. Yes, it would be a huge thing to invite in the very people who have caused you harm, but by doing so, you would give them life skills, skills to work, and a chance.

By giving those “bad guys” a chance, you can show them that we, Society, aren’t the “bad guys” either and we can enjoy working together to make progress.


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