Monday 17 November 2008

The curious case of the feral children

According to Barnardo's, over half of adults thought today's children were behaving like animals. And someone in the Barnardo's press office was occupied reading the comments on national newspaper blogs - I hope he or she got danger money - which led to this startling finding (as reported on the BBC website):
The charity also examined comments left on stories published on the websites of
several national newspapers. Staff found messages where children were described
as "feral" and some suggestions teenagers should be "shot".
It was all linked to an advertising drive against the demonisation of children. The whole campaign strikes me as a pretty desperate exercise. There may well be demonisation of young people - that's hardly new. But to suggest that half of adults think children are animals sounded absurd. Now it is clear that is a bit of a stretch, to put it politely.

I don't often find Civitas terribly persuasive with their bizarre opposition to public sector accountability, but they have shown in a press release today how the questions that led to these conclusions were pretty loaded and unclear.

there were six questions. The one that produced the strongest majority view was not reported in the press release. It asked: 'Nowadays it feels like the streets are infested with children'. 60% disagreed, but the [Barnardo's] press release does not report this clear majority view. Instead it reported that 35% agreed with the statement.

....The report also took advantage of the ambiguity of the term 'feral'. The poll asked respondents if they agreed with the statement 'People refer to children as feral but I don't think they behave this way' and 45% disagreed (42% agreed) The term 'feral' usually refers to occasions when a previously domesticated animal has gone wild, as in a 'feral cat'. The emphasis is on going wild and that is what most people would have understood by the term when asked. They thought they were agreeing with a statement that some children have 'gone wild', a way of saying that they are not sufficiently under the control of their parents or teachers. It is not the same as claiming that children are animals.

And isn't there also a bigger problem in the way that society simultaneously mollycoddles teenagers by not letting them do anything for themselves that involves responsibility but refuses to set sensible boundaries of behaviour? Wouldn't a campaign to encourage adults to give young people more responsibility while expecting better behaviour in return, do more for their welfare than an amateur horror flick?

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