Eva Simpson: National service would give kids a chance to Bond

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I watched the out-of-control BBC Tory leadership debate desperately hoping for Rory “was he or wasn’t he a spy” Stewart to fire his James Bond-style ­poison dart pen at rival Boris Johnson.

Knowing what we know about Boris, it was more likely to be the other way around.

Sadly, that is the only way International Development Secretary Stewart is likely to get his hands on the keys to No10.

Which is a shame really. Because some of his ideas aren’t that terrible. Like not letting Britain crash out of the EU with no deal and his idea of bringing back national service for 16-year-olds.

In France, Emmanuel Macron’s new-look national service began on Sunday, with 2,000 teenagers taking part and they’re only allowed on their phones for one hour a day.

As a mum facing the prospect of a long summer with a teenager who would happily spend half his day glued to a gadget, and the rest either eating or sleeping, I think it’s a brilliant way of engaging with a generation of young people sleepwalking their way through what should be the best years of their lives.

Let’s face it, what else is there for ­children to do in the summer?

Back in my day, the six-week break meant hanging out in the adventure playground all day with your mates or at local shopping centre – hardly earth-shattering I agree, but at least we were safe. These days, with the rise of violent crime, the thought of my teenage son going into town and getting unwittingly caught up in some fatal incident terrifies me.

Austerity has meant that youth clubs have been shut, any spare patches of grass to play on are built over and turned into luxury flats, and the cost of many other ­activities are out of budget for working parents who are already feeling the pinch.

Under Stewart’s plan for a National Citizen Service, every 16-year-old would spend two weeks in an outdoor education setting and two on a community project.

It would also bring children from different backgrounds together to work towards a shared goal, and never has that been more needed. With social mobility going backwards and the divisiveness of Brexit, this can only be a good thing.

Meanwhile experts can’t decide on whether too much screen time is harmful or not. But what no one can deny is
that our young people are more anxious, stressed and out of shape than ever before.

National service is not only a way of getting them to give something back, it’s also our way of letting them know
we care.

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