Charity's cheap shot at youth in online advert

9th January 2009 at 00:00

It's not that unusual for me to find myself spluttering into my morning cup of tea as I listen to some nonsense on the radio or read the latest "research today proves" article which I instinctively know is rubbish. These articles and issues often relate to "knife-carrying yobs" or "binge-drinking neds". But most recently, it was Barnardo's who out-did the youth panickers by launching their own panic about adults.

In brief, Barnardo's, backed by yet more "research", argued that many British adults believe young people are feral vermin, which indicates an appalling attitude in grown-ups towards today's youth. Backing up this research, Barnardo's has produced its first online advert depicting adults muttering obscenities about children before going out to shoot some kids hanging around the streets. All the comments made by the men in the advert, we are told, were taken from online newspaper comment pages made by the public (which presumably indicates that the idea of adults going out to blow children away is not that far-fetched!).

In reality, this is a constructed panic by Barnardo's and, regardless of its good intentions, it is dangerous, deceitful and purposefully misleading. Everybody involved in the campaign should be ashamed of themselves.

The "research", based on a few leading questions, is advocacy research of the worst kind where people are asked things like: "Do you agree or disagree that 'nowadays it feels like the streets are infested with children?'" Here people who think children misbehave more today, that there is not enough discipline or that there are more unruly young people on the streets are given no options, or alternative ways to express their views. You either tick "yes" or "no" to what results in a "finding" that 35 per cent of people think British streets are infested with children. From this, you can go on to argue that many adults think children are vermin (via "infested" - get it?).

Having put words into the public's mouths, Barnardo's uses the ramblings from online newspaper letter pages - which act more like adult chat lines than serious comment - to illustrate its advert, and leave us with a shock-horror story of the degenerate nature of adults and their vile views of young people.

Unfortunately, many in the media picked up on this story and accepted the research, like Reuters who headlined with "Britons fear and loathe 'feral' children". This tells us more about the media's (and our own) inclination to think badly of other adults, than it does about adult ideas about youth.

I am aware of the problematic relationships that exist between the generations. There is a certain fear of young people and an anxiety about approaching children. Adults are less sure about their role with other people's children and less clear about what authority society gives them, or what attitude they will encounter from children and parents.

But to take these complex and difficult issues and create a panic about the "disgusting nature of adults in Britain" is so irresponsible it makes me want to reach for my gun.

Stuart Waiton is author of 'Scared of the Kids'.

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