If you think wilding was much more civilized when you were young, well, you're old.

Older people are more likely to regard the behavior of younger people as anti-social, even if it doesn't bother young people at all. One example is swearing. 80% of adults in a recent survey thought swearing in a public place was anti-social behavior compared while less than 43% of young people did. When it comes to skateboarding on the street, over 60% of adults were against it while less than 8% of young people were. Mysteriously, even douchebikery behavior by cyclists had a generation gap regarding how annoying it was.

Yet loitering shows the generation gap is obvious. 40% of adults are against it but only 9% of teens. Would that 40% have thought standing around was anti-social when they were young?

Lead author Dr. Susie Hulley, from Cambridge's Institute of Criminology, compared views of teenagers at a secondary school with those of adult residents in the same part of Greater London, and believes that perceptions of risk may influence adults' views of young people.

"It is notable – and worrying - that young people's presence in public places, regardless of their behavior, was considered to be an anti-social behavior by four in ten adults," said Hulley. "The information that adults have about young people, for example from their negative portrayal in the media, often defines them in terms of the threat that they allegedly pose to adults." 

In making a direct comparison between younger teenagers' perceptions about anti-social behaviors with those of adults - both groups completed the same questionnaire - Hulley says the survey was the first of its kind, and could offer valuable pointers to policy-makers looking to foster more cohesive communities during a time when the generation gap appears to be widening. 

"In the context of increasing distances between generations, between 'them' and 'us', efforts should be focused on improving social connectedness by bringing adults and young people together so that adults can get a better understanding of young people and their behavior," said Hulley. "For example, previous research shows that young people gather in public places, which adults use, to feel safe and that adults often don't know the local young people, whose behavior they are interpreting and who they perceive as a risk." 

Hulley compared the views of 185 teenagers (aged 11-15) at a Greater London comprehensive school in 2006 with those of over 200 adult residents in the same area, in order to establish whether there are significant age-related differences. The questionnaire listed 18 different behaviors (from 'assaulting a police officer' to 'young people hanging around in streets/parks') and set out a series of vignettes to capture the views of the two groups.  

The results showed that a wide variety of behaviors were identified as anti-social. Acts defined as anti-social ranged from serious crimes to everyday behaviors such as gathering in groups and playing football in the street.  

Both groups at least agreed that murder, assault, burglary and shoplifting were anti-social behaviors - 93% of adults and young people, with no significant differences between the groups. 

At the lower end of the spectrum there was no such consensus, with adults significantly more likely to interpret all other behaviors presented to them as anti-social when compared with young people, including: young people hanging around; dropping litter and chewing gum; swearing in a public place; dumping rubbish or waste; scratching names or comments on bus windows; spray painting on walls; illegal parking.

In comparing the responses to the vignettes contained in the questionnaire, Hulley found that, not only did the age of the person defining the behavior affect interpretations, but so did the age of those perceived to be the 'perpetrators' and the 'victims' of particular behaviors.  

A group of young people blocking the pavement were more likely to be said to be behaving anti-socially than a group of middle aged women with pushchairs who were also blocking the pavement by both adults and young people. Still, more adults than teenagers identified the young people as anti-social.

A group of girls shouting insults at an elderly lady were defined as anti-social behavior by all adults and all but five young people, but only 60% of adults and 76% of young people defined an elderly man shouting insults at a group of teenage boys as anti-social. In conversation, adult participants surmised that the boys must have provoked the elderly man and some commented that he was 'brave' to confront them.

"The results of the study show that, in practice, the identification of behavior as anti-social involved an interpretative process that is not based simply on the behavior itself but on the age of those involved," said Hulley. "My research confirms that young people are particularly likely to be labeled perpetrators of anti-social behavior - especially by adult observers - and are less likely to be recognized as victims of anti-social behavior."

Published in Crime Prevention and Community Safety.
Source: University of Cambridge