If you were like the majority of people, you would probably answer ‘young people.’ In fact, according to a 2008 survey done by YouGov, more than half of the respondents believe that ‘UK children behave like animals.’
There is strong evidence that society in Northern Ireland, and in the rest of the United Kingdom, has a generally negative perception of young people. Teens and young adults are viewed as troublemakers by the media, politicians, educators, and often their parents and other adults in their community.
According to the recently released 2009/2010 Northern Ireland Crime Survey, the top three perceived causes of crime reported were drugs (67%), alcohol (62%), and ‘lack of parental discipline’ (62%). When asked which of the three respondents considered the main cause of crime, most said the latter – likely implying that they believe young people to be the main perpetrators of crime.
A study commissioned in 2008 by the children’s charity Barnardo's found that, based solely on perceptions, ‘the British public overestimates, by a factor of four, the amount of crime committed by young people.’
But the negative perception of young people in the United Kingdom does not stop with crime. People seem to have a general unease around groups of ‘hoods’ or young people.
The community policing organisation Street Watch was organised around this exact issue. There was petty crime and anti-social behaviour being committed by some young people in an English town, and adults were uncomfortable being around them out in public – some to the point that they would not leave their homes after dark.
Another study conducted by the Jack Petchey Foundation in 2009 found that nearly one in four adults in the United Kingdom over the age of 26 felt uneasy when they encounter or pass young people on the street.
Young people are not immune to the perception that others in society have of them. A study on the effect of negative media portrayal on youth has conducted by a group of young National Children’s Bureau workers ‘arose out of the concern expressed by young people regarding the negative portrayal of young people by the media...focusing on the negative actions of a small minority.’
There are several reasons to be concerned with this phenomenon.
Firstly, there is little basis in reality for people to hold these assumptions. Statistics from across the United Kingdom show that young people are, in fact, not responsible for the majority of crime. Nor do juveniles account for a majority of Anti-Social Behaviour Orders issued in England and Wales, despite anti-social behaviour being strongly associated with young people.
Secondly, media and social attitudes play a large role in shaping political policy. The ‘criminalisation of youth’ by society, whether real or perceived, has led to youth being dealt with in a very putative way by the political and justice systems.
Controversial mechanisms like ASBOs have been put in place and directed towards young people, despite evidence that they are not the majority recipients. Diversionary schemes have been put in place to try and tackle the ‘issue’ of problematic young people.
There is also a possibility that the negative portrayals and perceptions of youth can become self-fulfilling prophecy. Young people who are constantly and consistently told that they are the cause of society’s problems, that they are criminals, and are not given positive outlets through which to act may end up becoming a problem.
‘Too often they’re described as lazy, selfish, intimidating, and anti-social. If someone kept saying that about you, would you not begin to believe it?’
The video goes on to talk about how a majority of young people in Scotland do not fit the stereotype of a misbehaved, anti-social youth. Instead, they are active in their communities, attending school and volunteering – like most young people across the United Kingdom.
Do you think media portrayals of young people in the UK/Northern Ireland are accurate? What do you think of society’s perceptions of young people?
Read more about perceptions of young people in the United
From the BBC - UK Society 'condemning children', The yoof of today
Participation Works - Young people publish research on how negative media portrayal affects their lives
Young Scot - Pro-Social Behaviour Animation Seeks to Change Perceptions of Young People
Barnardo’s - Don't give up on us: Survey of Barnardo's young people