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The problem that's hanging around

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Mark Easton | 13:11 UK time, Thursday, 27 November 2008

How much do you worry about the problem of middle-aged women hanging around shopping centres?

Or groups of pensioners huddling together near the post office? Fifty-something businessmen massing by the wine bar?

Now let me ask you a different question. In your neighbourhood, how much of a problem are teenagers hanging around on the streets? That is what the Home Office asked 47,000 adults living in private households in England and Wales for a report on perceptions of anti-social behaviour [pdf].

And the answer is that "around one in three (31%) perceived teenagers hanging around to be a problem".

teenagersOne of the defining features of teenagers is that they "hang around". That is what they do. I did it. I suspect you did too.

The other questions in the Home Office survey relate to conduct which might reasonably be described as anti-social: vandalism, graffiti, damage to property, drug dealing, drunkenness, noisy neighbours or loud parties. If teenagers are hanging around and doing these activities, then government ministers might consider actions to encourage better behaviour.

But community anxieties about young people simply standing around tell us more about the anxious community than they do about the teenagers.

You may remember the recent poll commissioned by Barnardo's which found that more than a third of people agree that "it feels like the streets are infested with children". "Infested"?

Almost half of adults (49%) said that they regarded children as increasingly dangerous, both to each other and to their elders. Almost as many (43%) felt that "something has to be done" to protect society from children and young people.

In that context, the group of teenagers is regarded in the same way as, say, a pack of wolves or a plague of rats circling the shopping arcade.

I find it telling that official research assumes our young people are a "problem", even when all they are doing is hanging around being young people.

Perhaps the Home Office might like to do a youth survey asking how worried people are about the anti-social problem of adults treating teenagers like vermin.

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