Mahta Hassanzadeh: Forget the stereotypes: teen crime is a plea for help

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The figures are rising 26 teenagers have been murdered in London this year. For me, a 19-year-old female, it causes sadness, anger and unease. I'm not scared of walking out my front door and being gunned down but it does worry me that many teenagers wouldn't hesitate to do just that, regardless of how minor the motive may be. A momentary look, an accidental shove, a minor disagreement, your postcode.

I spent the first 11 years of my life in Manor House, not too far from where the recent Stoke Newington murders took place the shooting of 17-year-old Etem Celebi and the stabbing of 16-year-old David Nowak. After moving to another area, I kept in touch with people whom I had met at school and in the area, meeting up whenever I could without my parents catching me out. After all, my parents moved out of Manor House to make sure my younger brother and I grew up in a slightly better area.

By the time I turned 14, I fell into the typical route of teenage rebellion: skipping school, incredibly heated clashes with my parents, anything I shouldn't really be doing. If my group ever got into a dispute outside of our circle, it was not due to some stereotypical gang mentality of wanting to gain status. It was simply about supporting your friend. Friends are the family you choose. For inner-city teens, it's about a sense of belonging something that isn't present in all family environments.

With my friends I'd experiment with drugs, be present when dealings took place and then go home to my family and get on with whatever coursework I had to complete for school. In many ways it was like leading a double life.

As part of this group I witnessed my friends being beaten up by other teens and vice versa. I wouldn't frequently start fights, but if someone tried to make me look stupid or inferior to them I would try and counter that. I never witnessed anyone use a knife or gun but I knew that a couple of the boys usually carried some sort of weapon, usually a blade.

During my first year of A-levels, I decided that I'd had enough. Not in some dramatic Hollywood way but because I was lucky enough to realise that what I was becoming increasingly involved in would not end positively. My "us against the world" mentality weakened. I broke off all contact with my former friends after a violent falling-out with a girl whom I had known for about nine years.

Pride is very important to teens. She didn't understand where I was coming from; her belief that I considered myself better than them justified physical fights and the threat of being raped by her drug-dealing boyfriend. I knew they were serious in their threats but I would never admit or show any fear.

There is more pressure placed on teens today than ever before: family, school, friends, money, looking and acting a certain way. I could go on. There are too many teenagers today who feel they have no option but to fall into a life of gangs or crime. Unfortunately media glorification of such individuals fuels the "get rich or die trying" mentality. Others are driven by fear.

We can't tackle this ever-increasing problem by alienating teenagers. What we need is a voice to bridge the differences that divide us from our elders. Teen crime is almost always a plea for help.

Possibly the scariest thing is that knives and guns are no longer being carried for protection but in order to feel significant and gain repute. Yet these youths are a minority. We're not all gang members from rough backgrounds with attitude problems. The majority of us want to do well in life. It's just a shame so many of us are getting lost along the way.

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