Last night I sat around a dinner table catching up with four of my adult cousins.
We are all in our 30s now and these catch-ups are far too rare. When we were young, we spent many school holidays togethers, most often at our Aunt and Uncle’s property, and the stories and anecdotes from those holidays go for days and days and days.
When we catch up our conversation inevitably turns to this material, and no matter how many times we have retold or relived the stories, we laugh. With disbelief, nostalgia and amazement we laugh about the silly things we did.
We could all be described, quite reasonably, as respectable citizens and there was nothing particularly outlandish about what we got up to. But we were young. And we did some silly things. We got into trouble. We did stuff our parents didn’t – and still don’t – know about.
And I suspect this makes us just like what 98% of the population are like as teenagers. As teenagers, we are not at the peak of our faculties. Our judgement isn’t necessarily tightly honed. Our grasp of responsibility isn’t fully developed. And that is why we laugh now reflecting on the silly things our younger selves did. As adults, with the benefit of hindsight, it is funny to reflect on how deliciously foolish we once were.
Being foolish is the domain of the young. And while there is a gigantic chasm between being foolish and engaging in violent criminal acts, how can we dismiss youth from any discussion about disenfranchised teenagers?
Needless to say there is no comparison between cousins misbehaving on a farm and a 15-year old shooting a man, completely unprovoked, in broad daylight. But it’s also false to say there is absolutely nothing in common.
The subject of radicalisation and youth is firmly under the spotlight following the shooting in Parramatta on Friday of Curtis Cheng and the subsequent raids in Sydney today. Was the 15 year old a religious radical? Or was he disenfranchised and acting on his own whim?
In the wake of such a blatant atrocity, naturally, we want answers. Whose fault is it? The parents? The teachers? ISIS? Community leaders? How could this occur? What draws a young person to violent extremism? And how can we stop it?
They’re questions that need to be explored but they’re not questions that can or should be hastily answered.