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Are boot camps a solution or a symptom?

  • 03 June 2024
When societies get tetchy and politicians fall out of favour, you can expect an outbreak of concern about the young. They are the future of society.  Their sins and lethargy alike, however,  show that society is going to the dogs. As society sees them as a problem, the adults who have wrecked society become its saviours by proposing ways of straightening them out.  

The latest proposal came from Rishi Sunak, the British Prime Minister.  Young people, he promised, would all do national service for a year. Mr Sunak believed that this would help young people learn real world skills, do new things, create a shared sense of purpose and a renewed sense of pride in the nation. It would also help turn at-risk young people away from lives of unemployment and crime, and provide valuable work experience.

These bright hopes assumed that the young were idle, lacking in national pride and living in a make believe world. Unfortunately, the suggestion was a lead balloon. The military criticised the Government for neglecting its needs, followed by teachers for creating the problem, and business  for wasting money. 

In Australia, as might be expected, a parallel proposal to straighten kids out was more robust. It was to place offenders in boot camps for offenders run by the military under rigorous rules.

The pervasive contemporary anxiety about the place of children in society, however, is understandable.  It flows from the unregulated growth of technology and the gross inequality of wealth and power in society. These conditions, which are down to this generation, will all have effects on the lives of the next. Instead we focus on whether children should be deprived of freedom, and of access to social media, vapes and other things that adults have no intention of giving up.    

Children should certainly be protected from many experiences that they might enter more safely as adults. But should we not also ask if adults should also be shared these harmful experiences? If social media, nicotine and alcohol are harmful to children, should they be allowed for anyone? If boot camps are suitable for children, why not for motorists caught speeding? What do you think? 




Andrew Hamilton is consulting editor of Eureka Street, and writer at Jesuit Social Services. Main image: (Getty Images)