EVERYBODY is worried about the mental health of our teens and children. As always, when problems for teens arise, suggestions flood in, expecting schools to address them: the bullying, vaping, poor diets, pornography, knife crime, drugs, physical fitness – the list is unending, but we cannot keep dumping this on our teachers. The NHS to is accused of failing in its duty of care for mental health.

As a youth worker with 50 years’ experience, I don’t think we are looking hard enough at the cause of these problems.

If we listen to our teens, they tell us that they are bored and have nothing to do. They are right, there is nothing for them to do in many communities, especially those of high deprivation. The youth clubs, and places for children to just hang out and be kids, have vanished in the last 20 years. The closing of youth clubs and other safe meeting places for teens is because local authorities can no longer fund them. So we have abandoned our kids, leaving them to get on with it. Hanging about the streets, which can be dangerous.

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I was appointed the manager of the biggest youth centre in Scotland, the Key Youth Centre in East Kilbride. It was designed by young people, for young people, and had a management committee of young people, who chose me to be their manager. It had all of the sport and recreation facilities that were thought to be what kids wanted in the 1970s.

When I took over there were around 100 members, seven full-time staff and about 20 part-time staff. When I moved on five years later, there were 1200 members and about 30 youth groups and bands using it. A year year after me moving on, South Lanarkshire Council got rid of the youth management committee, and instead employed a couple of paid staff and a few part-timers. Power to young people had gone, as had most of the more difficult kids that part-time workers could not handle. The last time I visited it, I found very few staff and only around 100 members.

Apart from that example, I know that more than 400 youth projects in London have lost all of their funding. Mayor Khan is frantically seeking solutions to the child murders and stabbings. More money is thrown at the police to sort this out, but not at youth-empowering youth work.

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There is a much more dangerous problem nobody seems to have noticed. Not only have we all but abandoned our teens, we have allowed commercial enterprise to get in on the act, dipping into the pocket money of our kids to provide fancy new sport and leisure centres. Hundreds of kids and parents cannot afford the £50-£90 a month memberships. Sport is the dominating feature of these facilities and we all know that teenage girls are very seldom attracted to that. They, like most teens, just want a safe place to meet.

Even worse for our kids is the much more insidious billions to be made from our teens from mobile phones, gaming apps, gambling sites, pornography as the go-to route to sex education, and vaping. Parents worry about drug addiction, not realising that the addictions to mobile phones, social media, TikTok and the likes has massively damaging effects on teens as they go through the transition from childhood. Internet sites showing what girls’ bodies “should” look like, self-harm, how to commit suicide, are all undermining the mental health of millions of our teens.

We should all be appealing to our local authorities, our MSPs and MPa, about how wiping out funds for good youth work is one big mistake. Empowering our children and teens, by investing in services run by them, for them, is what we need to do. I have always wondered why it is that our elite university students have the right to own, manage and run their youth clubs – students unions – but we do not trust non-students to do the same.

Max Cruickshank