Jo Brand: Caution: children at play - with knives, guns and real blood

Click to follow
The Independent Online

When I worked in an emergency clinic in south London, seeing a broad cross-section of the community with psychiatric problems, it was generally accepted among our younger visitors, many of whom had drug or alcohol problems, that knives were an inevitable part of the immature person's paraphernalia. This was in addition to a superior sneer and a dismissal of anyone over 23 as tragically badly dressed and roughly the same age as the late lamented Mother Teresa.

But my dears, in a generational sort of way, things have moved on since I was a 23-year-old Mother Teresa looky-likey. Chatting to an 11-year- old recently, I was informed that a lot of kids of her age at her school carry knives. Surely it can't be long before babies start stashing them under the pillows of their prams. Admittedly, we're not talking Roedean here, but we're also not talking South Central LA either. These knives are not for carving sweet little wooden animals for their grandmas or slicing up an apple a day to share with friends. Oh no, let's be straightforward about this: they are for stabbing other children should the need arise. How, though, are 11-year-olds managing to conceal this hardware?

Now, teenagers I can accept being hideous enough to manage to ward off their parents whenever a weapons search is imminent, be it deliberate or inadvertent, because of course they don't do their own washing (or breathing in many cases). But I still like to think of 11-year-olds as proper children who do what their parents tell them. Of course there is the possibility that some parents are sending their kids to school with the words "Right, there's your PE kit, there's your homework and I've packed the flick-knife that Auntie Susan got you for Christmas, just in case there's any trouble in the playground".

We know that this kind of extreme violence in educational establishments is much more popular in the States and it goes on with the added scariness of guns, as an increasing number of hormone-ravaged, unformed members of the community lay waste to their secondary schools while everyone else stands helplessly by. Perhaps it's time, before we mimic even more of the unpleasant aspects of the Big Rotten Apple, that we stopped blahing on about "education, education, education" and concentrated on "civilisation, civilisation, civilisation". What's the point of teaching kids at all if some of them are not going to be around to use that education? "Spell, `exsanguination', children. Yes, that's right, it means `bleeding', Kylie."

Maybe the way to prevent violence in schools is to provide some decent role models. Send in some Leeds footballers to share their tips for a trouble-free night out, or Robert Mugabe may be available to give lectures on fair play. Liam Gallagher and Robbie Williams probably have something to tell us all about how to sort out our rivalries in an adult way.

It seems to me that bullying has become a popular hobby in this country and this supposition is borne out by recent research which says that a third of pupils are being bullied at school. We tend to forget that - despite the fact that these "pupils" all like to dress and behave like mini adults - they are children without the intelligence, sophistication or emotional strength to deal with the stress of these situations. (I don't exclude some adults from this definition either.) We should never underestimate children's capacity for cruelty, and surely we should be trying to teach them responsibility and empathy rather than encouraging the little blighters to be horrible to kids around them who cannot help some physical feature or other which society has decreed makes them bullying fodder.

I understand lots of people have complained recently about an advert which features a red-haired family and implies there's something wrong with them. The only family that has something wrong with them is the obviously puerile, stale family of advertising executives who get paid a bleeding fortune to come up with this pathetic excuse for a campaign.

And it's quite difficult to say to children - with any real conviction - that bullies never prosper, because children can see that they obviously do. Look anywhere in the world and you will find numerous examples of bullies who have prospered. Anyone who wants to be a member of the paparazzi, a tabloid journalist, a political spin doctor or a Unionist politician will be able to put their bullying skills to very good use should they so choose. There are also openings for bullies in some sections of the police, residential care homes and the medical profession.

What bullies tend do before they really get stuck in is to select their victims, and this is something that grown-ups make it very easy for children to do. "Have you got any asylum seekers in your school, children? Well, they are bad people who are flooding into our country and are going to steal all our money if we're not careful. So we mustn't let that happen, must we? Oh no, it's not just the horrible old Tories who are saying they're bad, it's the nice Labour Party too! So it's all right to treat them like shit!"

Perhaps the weapons problem in schools has gone too far and we are never going to disarm teenagers or younger kids, so maybe we should just teach them how to deal responsibly with knives. Individuals accused of murder with knives often say such things as "Oh, I never meant for them to actually die". Well, you should bear in mind that if you carry a knife people will die if they have the misfortune to get on the end of it.

Maybe we need to give schoolchildren better anatomy lessons and show them the areas of the body they can stab without fear of actually killing someone. Just as a five-year-old in America has so little idea of the effect of a gun, apart from some cartoon one on the telly, so an 11-year- old cannot really have much idea what will happen if they wave a knife around. Alternatively, perhaps we should follow our dads' advice and put these kids in the army. Oh sorry, forgot - that's another prime breeding ground for bullies.