Fear and loathing in Peckham

Jane Sandeman | 28 February 2007

The UNICEF reports that the United Kingdom has the poorest teenagers in the world, indicating that with the so-called epidemic of teen- age gun crime, British teenagers must be the devils incarnate. It’s surprising that the Home Office isn’t rounding up everyone between the ages of 13 and 19 and throwing away the key. 

However if you look more closely at the UNICEF report, by its own admission, it is not a measurement of empirically agreed poverty measures but an inexact and subjective attempt to sound out children’s ‘well-being’. ‘The report takes note of the child’s right to be heard and, to this end, incorporates a dimension that is based solely on children’s own subjective sense of their own well-being.’

Gun deaths are tragic… and extremely rare and that’s why they are so shocking. However, they are currently being presented as the teenage norm combined with their alleged problems with sex, drugs, bullying, suicides, weight, and lack of inclusion.

What should worry us is why teenagers in the United Kingdom do subjectively feel themselves to be more bullied and less healthy than teenagers in other countries. Might it have something to do with the fact that they are continually problematised through the media and governmental and educational policy? Maybe youth disaffection is simply a self-fulfilling prophesy.

As far as I can see, teenagers are usually pleasant, kind, interested and interesting people. It would be good to stop talking about them with such fear and loathing – which more accurately reflects adults’ self-doubt and paranoia than the reality of youth crime (as borne out by the inflated hype about gun crime) – and instead we should work out how we inspire young people with genuine ambition for the future.


Author: austinwilliams

Austin Williams is the director of the Future Cities Project and author of a number of books on the environment and on China. The latest are "China's Urban Revolution" (Bloomsbury) and "New Chinese Architecture: Twenty Women Building the Future" (Thames and Hudson).

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