There has been a dramatic increase in killings of and by teenagers recently. In the past 20 months, 16 teenagers have been charged with murder in London alone. You'll find the same pattern in all the big cities in Britain: more teenage violence, more out-of-control kids with guns and knives who are prepared to use them.

Punching someone in the face used to be regarded as extreme violence. For many kids, now, it is the norm. Policemen who go into schools have noted the change. "The younger kids still want to try on your helmet," one explains. "But the teenagers now want to knock it off your head."

What's happening? The short answer is that, in our inner cities and poorer areas, we are rearing a generation without basic moral values. It's not the children's fault. They are, after all, children. It's ours: we who are their parents, their teachers and their guardians have simply let them down. In the rush to "respect" children, we have denied them the most precious gift we can give them: a sense of right and wrong.

The failure of parents and teachers to educate them emotionally, or to discipline them effectively, means too many children follow a depressingly familiar trajectory from failure at school into the criminal justice system. By the time they get in front of the Youth Justice Board, it's too late: they can't see that they have done anything wrong. They just think the whole process of trial, conviction and punishment is a tiresome joke.

I've been a youth worker for nearly 20 years. I try to help repair youngsters who have been damaged by their experiences, which are often abysmal. When I go into inner city schools and give talks, one of the things I say is that boys should not hit girls. Recently, the reaction I have been getting from teenage boys is: "Huh? Why not?" They look at me as if I come from another planet.

The fact that British kids are allowed to get away with it does them immense harm. Liberal toleration and the commitment to "letting children be themselves" actually mean that adults have abdicated responsibility for educating children emotionally. In the state sector, teachers often seem afraid to teach fundamental values such as honesty, politeness and respect for others.

That, of course, explains why so many Labour ministers have hauled their children out of the state sector and put them into private schools. They want them taught some basic values, and they know they can't rely on that in many state schools.

The failure of leadership from parents and teachers means that there is a vacuum where moral values should be.

It should be no surprise that there has been an explosion of bullying in schools. Nor that there has been an enormous increase in the amount of stealing, extortion and violence. Most children's initial experience of crime is as a victim rather than as a perpetrator. But the perpetrators aren't punished, because teachers are usually scared of them, or their parents, or of being sued. And the victims quickly learn one lesson from that: if you don't want to be victimised, start behaving like the bullies.

So a vicious downward spiral starts. The more normal violence and intimidation become, the more extreme they have to be to have the desired effect. That's why there's an arms race going on among some young people. What begins with knives easily escalates to guns. And when one bully is known to have a weapon, the rest will not feel safe unless they too have access to one.

Britain has Europe's highest teenage pregnancy rate, the highest teenage rate of sexually transmitted infections, the largest youth prison population and the biggest teenage problem with alcohol and drug abuse. The root cause of the lot is our collective moral and emotional abandonment of our children.

Unfortunately, the Government has yet to recognise the fundamental problem. Equally unfortunately, so have many parents and teachers. Until we collectively attempt to address this, too many kids will continue to lack anything we can recognise as moral values. And their behaviour will continue to decline in shocking and frightening ways.

By Shaun Bailey, Sunday Telegraph

Shaun Bailey runs MyGeneration, an organisation which works with teenagers in west London