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A Clockwork Orange: How Britain became frightened of its young

Catriona Davies / London Telegraph | October 23 2006

Britain is becoming fearful of its young people with most adults too scared to intervene if they see misbehaviour in the street, a report says.

It claims there is a growing "paedophobia" among adults and confusion as to who is to blame for the problems of wayward youth.

The Institute of Public Policy Research, the think tank which carried out the research, found that only 34 per cent of adults would be willing to intervene if they saw a group of 14-year-old boys vandalising a bus shelter. In contrast, 65 per cent of Germans, 52 per cent of Spaniards and 50 per cent of Italians said they would intervene.

advertisementOf the Britons unwilling to step in, 39 per cent said they feared being physically attacked, 14 per cent were scared of later reprisals and 12 per cent feared verbal abuse.

Britons were also more likely than other Europeans to say that young people are responsible for antisocial behaviour. Seventy nine per cent gave "lack of discipline" as the root cause, compared with 69 per cent of Spaniards, 62 per cent of Italians and 58 per cent of French people.

The report, Freedom's Orphans: Raising Youth in a Changing World, to be published next month, said that both condemnation of teenagers and attempts to absolve them from all blame were misplaced.

Nick Pearce, the IPPR's director, said: "The debate about childhood in Britain is polarised between false opposites: that either children or adults are to blame. It also ignores inequalities in the transition to adulthood. Many children are safer, healthier and better educated than in the past, whilst others suffer complex, traumatic routes through adolescence.

"A rise in social 'paedophobia' will simply make matters worse. In the past, local parents tended to look out for children in a community, deciding what behaviour was appropriate, how it should be dealt with and supporting each other in doing so.

"In closer knit communities, adults supervised their neighbours' children. These days, adults tend to turn a blind eye or cross over on the other side of the road rather than intervene in the discipline of another person's child, often because they fear they might be attacked."

The report found that 1.5 million Britons thought about moving home because of young people hanging around and 1.7 million avoided going out after dark.

They were three times more likely to complain about young people hanging around than noisy neighbours. The report claimed that structured activities, such as sports, scouts or martial arts, were better for young people than unstructured youth clubs.

It found that at the age of 30, people who had attended structured activities at the age of 16 were slightly less likely than average to be depressed, living in social housing, have no qualifications and to be single, separated or divorced.

Those who had attended youth clubs were slightly more likely than average to smoke, be single parents, commit crimes or have a low income. The report recommends that every secondary school pupil should be required to take part in two hours of structured extracurricular activities a week.

It said there could be fines for parents who do not insist their children take part, in the same way as parents are punished for their children's truancy.

A separate report, by the children's charity Barnado's, claims that young people have been "demonised" by politicians and the media.

Pam Hibbert, the principal policy officer for the charity, said that wearing hoodies and meeting friends on the street was all part of growing up.

She said: "We have become fearful of all children. We know for example young crime in itself has remained fairly static in the last 10 years, it is a minority that cause problems and retaliate."

Barnado's said there was a lack of activities involving young people and adults such as growing vegetables in allotments or adults helping at young centres.


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