(Un)Reasonable Expectations--The Infantilisation of Bad Behaviour
Today I arrived in New Brunswick, The town has wi-fi throughout the downtown, but unfortunately I am at the University. Until I can get registered on the University system, my only access will be if I walk into the centre--and as 94 student essays are currently descending on me, that may not be possible.
So, as they used to say on Blue Peter, after giving you instructions for a Thunderbirds landing stage that will take you a week to construct: "Here's one I made earlier."
Dennis the Menace and the infantilisation of bad behaviour (or "bad boys are getting younger")
There is a lot of talk about how youth aren't what they used to be. That boys, in particular, are more violent, more unpleasant. To grace the following point with the word "theory" is probably pushing it a bit, but I'm just not convinced by this argument and I think there are two things going on.
The first is simply that as the western world gets wealthier, a disaffected child, or even simply a wild and rambunctious child can do an awful lot more damage than they could fifty years ago. Fifty years ago a ball through a window hit an ornament. Today it's quite likely to trash a computer or music centre.
The second is that as society's values have changed, the age at which it is still acceptable for a child--and especially a boy--to be a tearaway, oblivious of anyone's interests but his own, has diminished. We expect children to be nice, in a way that just wasn't true in the first part of the twentieth century.
Don't believe me? Take a look at Dennis the Menace over the past sixty years or so. For the North Americans reading this, the British Dennis the Menace is a homophobic bully who preys on William the Softy and passing policemen, and usually ends up getting beaten with a slipper by his Dad. These are moral tales.
The Old Dennis the Menace
(you'll need to scroll down to the cartoon on the right hand side) Clearly in his early teens, from a time when British school boys were kept in shorts until they were about fifteen.
The New Dennis Just as clearly a child.
I'm not trying to excuse anybody here, but there is a big difference between accepting that boys have lots of energy which needs direction or it's quite likely to get out of hand, and trying to pretend that they should have grown out of it, and that if they haven't then they are "bad". Take a look at this article,
Brain scans suggest teenagers are children at heart (it will cost you a pound but once registered, it's an easy system to use). I always have mixed feelings about determinism, but this is one of those classic pieces of research which confirms what we basically all know--children are not adults.
As playground time has been shortened in British schools, and opportunities for teens to play in the streets have disappeared (when was the last time you saw a street football or cricket game?), and as violent sports have been tamed, it isn't just that a kind of child isn't being catered for, it's that s/he is being made to feel wrong.
Last year the
Children's Society reported on just how little play space there is left. Britain is becoming an increasingly unfriendly place for children. And with the new
Anti-Social Behaviour Orders (ASBOs)> * "Childishness" is rapidly being designated anti-social behaviour and criminalised. I'm not saying all kids are little angels, but the threat of prison for aggravated door knocking?
Yet the equation is simple: the more we define space as not suitable for children, the more their presence in that space is regarded as ipso facto criminal. Funny, immigration law works a bit like that.
*ASBOs are granted by magistrates. Breach of an ASBO means possible imprisonment. So that in effect a child can be sent to prison without a full trial.