Adolescent opinion of the police is heavily influenced by parents

There is the general impression that trust in and respect for the police are extremely fragile among the young. The intensive use of public space and conflictive contact with the police may well be the cause (as well as an anti-authoritarian feeling which is a feature of such an age). In order to verify this impression, Sindall, McCarthy and Brunton-Smith have carried out a study based on a sample of 1,500 youths (from 10 to 15) and their parents, within the framework of the English crime survey corresponding to the period from 2010 until 2102.

50-walesThe study is based on two premises: a) that there are great similarities in parent and youth opinion of the police, and b) that the contact between young people and the police can influence their opinion and that, in this sense, if the police treat people fairly, adolescents have a more positive opinion. In fact, there are many studies which identify groups which take a more negative view of the police like those which tend to be a main or frequent focus of police attention (youth, minorities, roamers and the impoverished in general).

The results of this project show that young people between 10 and 15 in England and Wales mainly take a positive view of the police (53%), only 5% have an openly negative opinion and 42% have a neutral opinion. In general, irrespective of the individual characteristics of the young and the environment they live in, opinions held by parents and their children are very similar. Those who have a lifestyle with very little connection with their parents and school are highly cynical and play down the virtues of the police. Girls trust them more than boys, and each year as they get older reduces the level of trust by 20 points. Contact with the police does not affect their opinion when this is positive, but it does when it is negative, as their view of the police goes down.

The effect of parents’ opinion on that of their children is higher where the police are more visible and lower in areas where there is barely any police presence. The children of married parents and those who value and appreciate the area they live in have a higher opinion of the police.

The authors of the project warn that the fact that most of the young people involved had their interview in the presence of their parents (88% of those who were 10 and 63% of those who were 15) may have distorted the results, as many young people may say whatever they feel their parents expect them to say.

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