Page last updated at 13:40 GMT, Monday, 6 February 2006

Talking about my generation

By Paula Dear
BBC News, in Northampton

Everyone agreed there was a problem with respect

Many believe there is a lack of respect among the young for the older generation, while young people often argue respect is not returned and their views are ignored.

To begin a week-long series on respect in one English town, the BBC News website brought old and young face to face in Northampton.

As Winston Churchill once said: "To jaw-jaw is always better than to war-war."

But how often do different generations get the chance to talk to each other about the tensions between them?

It's a weird scenario for the 10 strangers in the room. Everyone lines the wall, standing in their respective peer groups. When we sit, no-one wants to be the first to take a chocolate biscuit.

We're not looking for a Jerry Springer-style punch up but everyone does seem to be on their best behaviour.

THE PANEL
Tom Gayton, 16, student
Alex Matthews, 17, student
Cassandra Price, 17, student
Tessa (surname withheld), 19, working
Samantha Wildman, 26, mother
Jane Hollis, 46, local councillor
Ken Mead, 50, builder
Annette Faulkner, 65, retired
Maureen Freeland, 63, retired
Lily Snedker, 79, retired

The first question, 'do we have a problem with respect?' is met with vigorous nodding.

"To respect people you have to get to know them, but you don't really get the chance to meet other kinds of people," says 17-year-old Alex.

She is part of a large group of teenagers that hang around the town centre every Saturday.

But they are treated as a problem, frequently moved on from their meeting point and sometimes refused service in shops.

"No-one ever actually tries to talk to us," she says.

But retired neighbours Annette and Maureen have a contrasting view, saying their area is "inundated" with disrespectful "yobs".

"They throw stones and urinate in our gardens on the way home from school," ventures Maureen.

Respect cannot be taught, but it can be demonstrated and it has to be earned
Megan, Cheshire, UK

"And when you're in your garden they try to intimidate you," adds Annette. "One once shouted over, 'You've got a fat arse missus'."

Maureen admits that if she saw a group of youths like the one Alex and her friend Tom are part of she would think twice about walking by them.

"I had four daughters and I taught them respect from the word go," says Lily, 79, "but a lot of young people now just don't care."

Alex and Tom bristle at some of the comments about "young people today" flying around.

Alex Matthews and Tom Gayton

"Every generation feels a little bit less understood than the previous one," says Alex.

"Respect is a two-way thing, we shouldn't tar everyone with the same brush.

"I've had grown men with families coming up and calling me names because I've got ginger hair."

Most of the over-40s in the group agree the respect problem is not exclusively children versus older people.

"You hear mothers f'ing and blinding at their children in shops, and recently I had two blokes fighting outside my house - I had to swill the blood off the drive," says Annette.

'Do gooders'

But there is agreement among the older group that much of the anti-social behaviour they face in the town's estates stems from youths, and that a decline in discipline at home and school is to blame.

However, no-one agrees that the government should interfere with the way people bring up their children.

"The problem started from two generations back. A lot of the parents have grown up in an era where there was a lack of respect. It's totally gone once it's got to their children. Eventually there will be none at all," says 50-year-old Ken.

His daughter Samantha, 26 - a mother of two - says there's a lack of control over the behaviour of many young people.

Samantha Wildman and Ken Mead
The difference was I held my hands up and took the punishment - I knew I'd get the cane at school, then get a belt for it when I got home
Ken Mead

"There are boundaries we had years ago that we have lost," she says.

Maureen agrees: "Our generation lived in fear of what would happen if we didn't respect everyone."

Although most feel using fear to control people is not the way forward, a majority of the older group believe "an occasional slap on the backside" does no harm and that "do-gooders" who have eroded the right to discipline children have a lot to answer for.

"There could be more for kids to do," says Tessa, 19, whose 16-year-old brother has been in trouble with the police for vandalism and damage to property.

Her friend Cassandra says: "I'd like a club to go to. There is one in town that does no-alcohol nights and foam parties for under-18s but it's closing down."

Punishment

This sparks a lively discussion about a local decision to cut funding to youth services - a policy that is met with universal disdain in the room.

Liberal Democrat councillor Jane Hollis calls the local Conservative-led council's recent decision to contract out the services an "absolute shame".

Almost all the chocolate biscuits have been eaten and most feel at least some barriers have been broken down during the evening's conversation. But hasn't it always been the case that teenagers and older people don't see eye to eye?

I was a rocker - always on the back of a motorbike
Maureen Freeland

Four of the five teenagers in the room had been bullied at school, but none had confided in their parents. They all felt grown-ups imposed things on them but rarely asked what they wanted.

So have young people really become more troublesome in recent decades, as some believe?

Ken admits he was often in trouble when he was younger but insists it was not the same as it is for today's youth.

"The difference was I held my hands up and took the punishment. I knew I'd get the cane at school, then get a belt for it when I got home. It did make me think twice."

'Good kids'

Maureen recalls: "When we were young we hung around in the town centre, there was a place we used to go where we could dance and drink - soft drinks - and it was always packed. The older ones didn't come into town.

"In my day it was mods versus rockers. I was a rocker - always on the back of a motorbike," she adds.

"I don't know what people thought of us. I probably wouldn't have taken any notice anyway."

It later transpires that Maureen's 15-year-old granddaughter is a fledgling goth - with dyed black hair and black eyeliner cited as "early signs" - and has started frequenting the place where Alex and Tom's group meets.

"These are good kids. Perhaps if they could just say hello to us old ones when we walk past..."

And after tonight maybe, just maybe, that's what they'll do.



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