Baby-gang bother: social media hypes up troublesome teens

It’s a story which has spanned for hundreds of years. Elder generations have consistently criticised the succeeding ones for supposedly lacking principles and values

It’s a story which has spanned for hundreds of years. Elder generations have consistently criticised the succeeding ones for supposedly lacking principles and values.

A quote widely attributed to Socrates, the ancient Greek philosopher goes as follows: “The children now love luxury; they have bad manners, contempt for authority; they show disrespect for elders and love chatter in place of exercise. Children are now tyrants, not the servants of their households. They no longer rise when elders enter the room.”

The debate on how youth in Malta have degenerated lifted its head once again, as videos of young people, labelled as “gangs” by certain sections of the media, fighting each other in Valletta made their way to people’s mobile screens.

The videos led to more videos of young teens fighting in the capital making the rounds.

MaltaToday reached out to Youth and Community studies lecturer Maria Pisani, who underlined the complexities in understanding youth violence.

“The challenge lies in holding this complexity together.  Sociological research on youth violence and gang subcultures goes back more than a hundred years, so youth violence is nothing new,” she said.

Maria Pisani and Marco Bonnici
Maria Pisani and Marco Bonnici

Pisani said her interests lie in understanding behaviour labelled as ‘deviant’ as a product of the broader social environment, rather than as an example of moral deprivation or some kind of psychological disorder located in the individual young person.

“Exposure to violence, whether its online, in any physical space, or indeed the interplay between the two, has a negative effect on young peoples’ mental health, their relationships with families and friends, and on their academic and work performance – this is obviously well known. As such it is, and should remain, a matter of deep concern,” she said.

She said such incidences should be interpreted as some kind of degeneration of, or deficit in contemporary youth.

“Likewise, a knee jerk response that seeks to ‘reform’ or discipline young people is also problematic. Whilst youth violence is not new, and the research on young people, social media and violence already goes back 20 years, I think we are all struggling to understand how these relatively new technologies affects the lives of young people today. I also believe young people are, in many ways, also best positioned to understand these challenges,” she said.

The need to strengthen mental health services in Malta’s schools

Malta Union of Teachers President Marco Bonnici believes that the onset of social media has changed the way bullying is being carried out.

“While bullying used to happen at schools or catechism classes and end there, nowadays that bullying continues on social media and through video games,” he said.

He added that following the COVID-19 pandemic, educators have seen higher levels of anxiety and frustration among students.

“We have systems in place to provide services for mental health, and they are working. The issue we face is the shortage of professionals in the country, it is literally an issue of human resource. You have people who are referred to a professional two/three months after they raise their concern, rather than it being two/three weeks,” Bonnici said.