Flag riots cause youths 'lasting harm'

Published Wednesday, 06 February 2013
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Recent violence surrounding flag protests in Northern Ireland could cause "lasting harm" to young people, a gathering of early childhood leaders from conflict or post-conflict countries has heard.

Flag riots cause youths 'lasting harm'
Sporadic violence has broken out, particularly in Belfast, for two months. (© Pacemaker)

Delegates from around the world met in Belfast on Wednesday to explore the impact of trauma and violence on children.

Keynote speak Professor Stuart Shanker - a world expert in neuroscience from York University in Toronto, Canada - told the conference that Northern Ireland's children are already more vulnerable to heightened stress and associated problems because of the legacy of the Troubles.

He highlighted that stress, and the inability to deal with it, can have massive negative knock-on effects throughout people's lives.

There is no such thing as a bad kid, everyone has got to understand that. There is such a thing as a stressed kid, but there's no such thing as a bad kid.

Professor Stuart Shanker

"Our children today are the most stressed children ever," Professor Shanker said.

"There are some studies today suggesting stress levels are five times of those experienced during the Great Depression.

"What we know from our studies is that punishment and reward doesn't really work - it has a very limited effect on behaviour and, in fact, in some cases may make things much worse."

According to Professor Shanker, stress that is not dealt with properly can have negative effects on attention span, ability to learn, and also the ability to make rational choices.

Emotions, including anger, begin to have a greater say in behaviour and a vicious circle can be created when children begin to struggle at school and also receive negative reactions to their behaviour - leading to more stress for affected children.

Professor Shanker, who has worked with the conference organisers Early Years for many years, added that he believed Northern Ireland to be a country with huge potential and one that it is making great efforts to deal with such issues - but that more can be done.

He advocates children being taught to manage their stress themselves, through early childhood services and schools, and parents being supported to understand their child's behaviour.

Early Years believes that our children are our most important assets but, as a society, we need to ensure that they are provided with every opportunity to reach their full potential.

Siobhan Fitzpatrick, Early Years

OFMdFM junior Minister Jennifer McCann, who opened the conference, said the issues discussed were of "major significance" - both locally and around the world.

"It is important to revisit the past so that we can learn from our experiences," she said.

"Young people must be offered the opportunity to learn about the past and reflect on the lessons that it can offer us as we work to build a better future."

Ms McCann added: "Junior Minister Bell and I are both committed to creating and improving opportunities for children and young people.

"In our Programme for Government, we acknowledged the need to increase shared learning facilities for everyone. Sharing in education creates the conditions for purposeful, regular interaction in learning for our young people.

"This is a key factor in improving the well being of society, as it promotes a culture of tolerance and mutual respect."

The conference comes after two months of flag-related protests - sparked by the restriction of the flying of the Union flag at Belfast City Hall - some of which have been marred by violence.

Children have been spotted at the scenes of riots and a number of young people have been arrested.

© UTV News
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7 Comments
Tommy Atkins in London, England wrote (659 days ago):
Yes I agree with you Eamo that these delinquents parents should be held responsible. They have divorced themselves from their parental responsibilities. If riots erupt then a curfew should be instituted for all under the age of 18 and the so called parents held totally responsible However if that rioter is 18, or over then the rioter should be hit with the full force of the law.
tommy in belfast wrote (659 days ago):
well it looks like eamo is the new belfast Professor this is 2013 eamo back in the 70s & 80s things where a lot different to now days of course kids are stressed now days with everything that is going on in this country in fact everyone is stressed about it
S.B. in Belfast wrote (659 days ago):
I have seen a lot of my peer group who grew up through the Troubles (now in their late 30's/early 40's) dying from premature deaths. There is no doubt in my mind that what they experienced in the 1970's and 80's as kids affected many of them mentally and physically and left a lasting legacy throughout their lives. There are an awful lot of serious mental health problems including severe anxiety and panic attacks hitting the 35 - 50 age group and this is something no one is prepared to address. I have even found myself just stopping and staring into space for minutes on end at places where I know someone was shot or an explosion happened. It sounds surreal and a bit mad but sometimes you can't help yourself drifting back and thinking about these things as you get older.
John in Newtownabbey wrote (659 days ago):
When I was young we were taught that if we mitched school or committed petty crime, our parents would go to jail. We were terrified of getting into trouble. The youth of today who take part in these disturbances are doing what they have been conditioned to do and are following the lead given by their parents. I'm sure they in turn will teach their kids to march and wave flags. Didn't someone say it's in their DNA?
realistic in planet earth wrote (659 days ago):
kids learn what they live.....
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