The vandals are in their bedrooms

Butter Cross in Winchester, 1940s Winchester's Butter Cross: A magnet for loitering teens

When I was a teenager, "social networking" mostly involved hanging around with a few mates at the Butter Cross in Winchester's ancient High Street. Or at the coach station. Or, if wet, in the bus shelter.

Without money, it all got very boring very quickly.

Bored teenagers tend to get up to mischief (not me, of course) and a lot of petty vandalism is committed by young people who have got nothing better to do.

But in the past few years, teenage social networking has started moving from the street corner to cyberspace. According to Ofcom, the average 12- to 15-year-old now spends as much time on the internet as watching television - more than 17 hours a week on both. In 2007, young teens spent less than 14 hours online.

Some of that time will be spent doing homework, but a fair amount of it will be taken up on Facebook or other networking sites. Young people are spending huge amounts of their time chatting and flirting and gossiping and arguing with their mates - without ever having to leave their bedroom.

And when they are not on the internet, they are probably on their mobile. Youngsters aged 12-15 now send almost 200 texts or instant messages from their phone in an average week - almost four times as many as five year earlier.

More possible reasons...

Teenager walking past a wall covered in graffiti
  • Stuff is harder to vandalise, such as "fortressed" bus shelters
  • Vandalism prevention is more sophisticated
  • Anti-social behaviour crackdowns are working
  • People have stopped reporting vandalism

This age group also now spends an average of 6.6 hours a week gaming - almost 30% use an online games console to access the internet from home.

This blossoming of online social contact is transforming the daily lives of today's teenagers.

Figures published in 2007 (see Condoms or family meals?) suggest, at that time, 15-year-old boys in England and Scotland spent far more time than their European counterparts out with their pals - mostly just hanging around.

In France, just one in six spent most evenings out with their mates. In Italy and Germany, it was roughly one in four. But in England, the figure was 45% and in Scotland, it was nearly 60%.

It would be interesting to see whether those figures have changed much. I suspect they may have done, because some of the time now spent on the internet and texting on the mobile will have replaced those dreary hours spent hanging around at the Butter Cross (or equivalent).

So, the steep fall in vandalism correlates with a steep rise in the use of social media. It doesn't mean that Facebook and Blackberry Messenger have caused the drop in crime, but I do wonder whether the two may be linked.

For decades, people have complained about bored teenagers hanging around and causing trouble. If they are too busy online to hang around as much, maybe that explains why they are causing less trouble.

Trends in vandalism in England and Wales 1981-June 2012 Note: Data refers to different time periods: a) 1981-99 refers to a calendar year, b) 2001/2-2009/10 refers to a financial year, c) Last two data points refer to the year from July to June
Mark Easton Article written by Mark Easton Mark Easton Home editor

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  • rate this

    Comment number 6.

    Perhaps they are writing graffiti on Facebook walls...

  • rate this

    Comment number 5.

    what I cannot understand (maybe someone will enlighten me) is a lot of teenagers say that they peform vandalism and commit crime because there is nothing to do and they get bored, but they have a lot more things
    to do now like, computers, playing video games, listening to music on their ipods, loads of tv channels and radio station etc etc, we did not have any of this when i was thir age

  • rate this

    Comment number 4.

    To my eye the recent fall doesn't look that much more impressive that the steep jump between 1991 & 1993. Any explanation for that sudden increase?

  • rate this

    Comment number 3.

    Well, let's hope the vandals stay indoors, as there won't be any police officers left soon. The Tories are cutting 16,000 frontline police officers, and want to pay new recruits a puny £19K for risking life and limb.

  • rate this

    Comment number 2.

    Just how well will the keyboard hermits cope with the unavoidable real face to face social contact in adult life. Perhaps more of a concern is the trend of atrophying physical performance attendant upon a sedentary way of life. Being an outdoor nuisance was more fun and you did not have to be able to touch type (and I still cant).


Comments 5 of 6



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