Why fear is impacting the independence of our youth

We begin this blog post by rewinding to 1971. In that year, 94% of children aged 7-11 in England were allowed to go out alone. Fast forward to 2010, and that figure dropped to just 33%. Now more than ever, children in our communities are scared to be alone at night, they walk in groups to feel more secure, and they worry about how the police treat crowds of young people.

Children are so fearful of crime that they no longer feel confident exploring their local community independently. Why has this downward trend been recorded? Should children still feel safe?

Labelling all youth as violent is making the problem worse

All too often, society paints all youth with the same brush. Across traditional and social media, we see teens labelled as troublesome, disrespectful and entitled. Some shopping centres have banned hoodies, while others play high-pitched noises to avert groups of young people from gathering.

This stigma, particularly attached to youth from deprived communities, is impacting all young people. The labels and prejudices are making the problem worse, and it is our young people that are suffering because of it.

When we attach these labels, it affects the young person’s interactions and perceptions of police from a young age. It also impacts their opportunities and expectations of themselves.

Unfortunately, it is not just the media contributing to this cycle. The criminal justice system treats young people from disadvantaged communities more harshly for minor offences.

Pre-empting that a young person will offend or re-offend because they are from a deprived community leads to a cycle of distrust. The more a young person believes society is against them, the less likely they are to make a positive contribution.  

Do young people feel safe in public?

As mentioned, only 33% of English children between 7 and 11 were allowed to explore their community independently in 2010. This trend isn’t widespread, though. In Finland, 2011 statistics showed that 87% of children aged 7-11 were allowed to go out by themselves. When comparing Germany, Norway, Sweden, and Denmark to our English statistics, all of these European countries recorded higher levels of independence.

When asked about their fears, children aged 7-18 in Sheffield said they wanted to feel safe in parks and local streets, implying they currently don’t. When looking at crime statistics, though, very little crime happens in these locations.

Moreover, only 4.3% of children aged 10-15 were victims of violent crime in England in 2019. The majority of children have not been crime victims, but still feel unsafe. We have to ask ourselves why. Why do our children not feel safe in their communities? Is it because the societal ideals we perpetuate about young people are generating fear?

Steps in the right direction

In 2018, the Early Intervention Youth Fund was announced by the home secretary, Amber Rudd. With funding of £11m, the Early Intervention incentive adopts a “multiple strand approach involving a range of partners across different sectors”.

The real change, though, will rise from a transformation in societal beliefs. Inequality, lack of opportunity, stigma, and poverty all contribute to the prejudices that still exist in society. 

The young people in our community have so much to offer. At Bold Leap, we provide young people with safe housing and holistic support, helping them to achieve independence and launch a bright future, no matter where they’re from.

To connect with the Bold Leap team, leave your details in our contact form. We look forward to hearing from you.