Monday, 17 November 2008

British Adults are Terrified of Teens

So far this morning the currency markets seem to be ignoring UK Tory shadow chancellor George Osborne's comments on Saturday. Despite predictions that the pound would take a dramatic plunge once currency trading opened this morning, it is actually slightly up against the dollar as of noon. Phew! Safe for now. But according to a new report receiving a lot of press coverage this morning, Brits may be fearing something even more insidious than a collapsed currency: their own children.

A poll conducted by a British charity shows that more than half of British adults are afraid of British children, believing they behave like animals and pose an increasing danger to themselves and others.

The behavior of British young people has been increasingly in the news, with public perceptions of children growing worse and worse. Recently a product was launched in the UK called the 'mosquito,' which emits a painful noise that only people under 18 can hear. The device is being sold to British shop-owners and other people, with the idea that they would install them on their premises to keep away young loitering hooligans. The popularity of the product has caused many British pundits to question people's attitudes toward British children.

According to the study, words like 'animal', 'feral' and 'vermin' are used daily in reference to children by British adults. The charity launched a TV advert this morning to accompany the report, showing a group of men seemingly talking about hunting a group of meddlesome animals. But then at the end of the advert it is revealed that all of the comments they used were actually comments British adults wrote about children in the comments sections of British newspapers.

But though the group is condemning these attitudes, many on the other side say that the fear expressed by these adults isn't the problem, but is rather a symptom of the real trouble - the increasingly shocking behavior of British youths. Incidents of young people being involved in violent crime or anti-social behavior have become frequent fare on the front pages of British newspapers, particularly several high-profile cases. In one of the most shocking cases, three teenagers were found guilty in January of murdering father of three Garry Newlove, who was beat to death after he confronted a group of youths making trouble outside his home.

So which is the real problem? Is the media needlessly fear-mongering by focusing so heavily on these youth crimes, or is it highlighting a legitimate social issue as British children drift into widespread anti-social behavior? The answer is probably a bit of both. As a foreigner living in the UK I have to say I noticed right away a dramatic difference in the behavior of British teenagers versus those in the US - and I reached this conclusion without the aid of the British media. When I first moved to London I was truly shocked by how British children behaved, and how accustomed adults seemed to have become to the behavior. My office in London was near a school, and every day in the mid-afternoon we would hear a chorus of shrieking, screaming and obscenities like I had never heard. I can say without exaggeration that it literally sounded like like people were being murdered outside. The first time it happened I ran to the window to see what was happening, and my coworkers looked on with mild bemusement. They had grown accustomed to this kind of display, whereas I thought some kind of horrible crime was being committed on the street below.

I should point out that when I moved to London I was coming directly from New York City, so it's not a question of being in an urban area rather than a suburban one. Maybe I'm just getting old and cranky. But I've had this conversation with many other Americans living in London and they've all said they've independently observed the same thing, that British children seem to be bizarrely out of control compared to youths in the US. But then again, who knows how much the British media influenced our perceptions in this area.

Clearly the fact that so many adults seem to be terrified of children is not good, but it seems to me that blaming the media entirely for this fear misses the bigger point. The current generation of British teenagers has somehow ended up feeling alienated from and unaccountable to society. I don't know how this came about, but people's fear in this area isn't entirely irrational. Then again, one should also keep in mind that complaining about the "youth of today" is a trend that will probably never go away, so matter which generation is being discussed.

1 comment:

Torsten said...

Coming to London from continental Europe I observed the same thing. British kids are out of control, they are scary!