April 12, 2013 6:14 pm

A rebel without applause

The Paris Brown saga: the young can teach us a lot in some areas, but it is reassuring to see that the cult of youth has its limits
An illustration depicting Paris Brown and her unpleasant tweets©Lucas Varela

OMG; I was just, like, ROFL when I heard the news. The 17-year-old hired by Kent police to represent the views of youth turned out unfortunately to be a little too representative. Given that the average traditional teenager is a volatile cocktail of insecurities, anger, hormones, Clearasil and Bacardi Breezer, what could possibly go wrong?

In this case, it turned out that the girl, one Paris Brown, had sent out some unpleasant tweets that no one thought to check on before employing her. What was the Kent Constabulary up to? I thought the police felt a constitutional duty to arrest people for reckless tweeting. If you are an adult, one misplaced tweet is all it takes for the Territorial Support Group to haul you out of bed at 5am. Doesn’t being drunk in possession of a smartphone carry a custodial sentence these days? Many employers routinely scour an applicant’s Facebook page or Twitter feed, but apparently that kind of detective work was too much for the newly elected police and crime commissioner Ann Barnes, whose wizard wheeze this was.

At time of writing the wretched youth has just resigned from her post as the country’s first youth police and crime commissioner, unlike the even more wretched woman whose idea it was to employ her in the first place. Both are being savaged in the media because of the tweets which, in the kindest interpretation, were insensitive to gays and foreigners. I mean she, like wrote them when she was FOURTEEN. It’s all just SO unfair.

There is something so glorious about this saga that it was surely worth the £15,000 that would have been wasted on Paris’s salary just for making us all laugh. Really, did no one see this coming? As Paris would put it: like, hello. There is a reason why police and teenagers are alienated from each other – and it isn’t the lack of a youth commissioner.

There are some clear areas, such as technology, where the young can teach us a lot, but it is reassuring to see that the cult of youth has its limits. There are plenty of teenagers who might have something to contribute to community policing, but the idea was to have someone who lived the same life as those she was purportedly representing. Some 16-year-old whose biggest thrill in life is to be photographed with Ed Miliband may be a finer citizen, but he may lack the street cred necessary to secure a plum role teaching the police how to do their job.

There are many aspects of policing that cry out for improvement. More cultural sensitivity would be useful, not least towards innocent Brazilians, newspaper vendors and other victims of police aggression. But among the most commonly requested improvements, a supervisory committee filled with teenagers scores fairly low. From the outset this smacked of being a stunt.

Even so, one does feel sorry for Paris. She’s almost certainly not the monster being depicted. She did, after all, beat more than 150 other applicants for the role, and in television interviews came across as reasonably articulate. She clearly speaks fluent teen – perhaps too fluent – and it’s hardly her fault the job was a daft idea.

Having recently become the father of a teenager, I can see a degree of humility is required here. So far the boy is breaking me into teenage life gently. But, I’m not sure I’d consult him on policing policy for the wider metropolitan area.

There is however a second lesson from this fiasco, and it concerns social media. Most of us grew up in an era when our youthful stupidities could not be found online and our inane observations on life were restricted to a couple of mates. A pop culture that talks of hos, fags and bitches is not one that is likely to breed respectful tweets. Part of teenage life is learning what is and is not appropriate.

If we can forgive David Cameron his university drug taking, we ought to be able to make allowances for all but the most intolerable teenage social media mishaps. Things we tweeted in our early teens should not be allowed to define us for a lifetime.

robert.shrimsley@ft.com

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