Teens avoid neighbourhoods adults fear

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“It is clear that kids who live in high-poverty areas are spending less time in their neighborhoods and that is linked to a collective fear of crime”

By Matthew Ponsford

LONDON – (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – American teenagers spend less time in poor neighbourhoods that locals consider dangerous, but don’t usually listen to their parents’ fears about safety, according to a study that tracked their locations by smartphone.

Researchers followed 1,400 young people between the ages of 11 and 17 living in Ohio’s state capital Columbus and its suburbs and found they spent an hour less per day in their local neighbourhood if people living there had a high fear of crime.

Christopher Browning, professor of sociology at The Ohio State University, said the study was the first to use smartphone satellite geopositioning data to track young peoples’ movements on a minute-by-minute basis.

It showed that in neighbourhoods considered dangerous – a measure very strongly linked to poverty levels in that area – there is a “collective withdrawal”, said Browning.

“It is clear that kids who live in high-poverty areas are spending less time in their neighborhoods and that is linked to a collective fear of crime,” Browning said.

The study also measured each teenager’s parents’ or caregivers’ perception of an area’s danger but there was a weak correlation, indicating young people were not strongly following their elders beliefs, added Browning.

“You can imagine that, even when the caregiver is afraid, if youths have activities in the neighbourhood that everyone else is involved in and their friends are involved in, they simply go with it,” Browning told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

The study is the first part of a project that aims to create a complex picture of how young people move around their neighbourhoods.

Overall, youngsters spent an average of 52 percent of their waking time each day at home, 13 percent in their neighborhoods, and 35 percent outside of their neighborhoods.

Hundred of research papers show the connection between poorer neighbourhoods and a litany of problems including worse education, lower life expectancy, and worsened economic prospects, but few have looked at how much time children spend in their local area, said Browning.

Browing said he initially thought a lack of services such shops, schools, youth centres and after-school activities in poorer areas could be causing the people to spend less time there.

But the findings indicate that even if cities provide services to deprived areas, teenagers may stay away if the area is perceived to be dangerous, leading such services to be used less, he said.

(Reporting by Matthew Ponsford, Editing by Astrid Zweynert @azweynert.; Credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women’s rights, trafficking, property rights, climate change and resilience.)