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Adolescents Behaving Badly, But Better Than Their Parents Did, UK

Medical News Today May 21, 2006

Bournemouth University study reveals that today's girls are worse behaved than boys and children of smokers are even more likely to behave badly

Williams R & Pritchard C (2006 ) - ‘Breaking the Cycle of Educational Alienation: A Multi-Professional Approach', Open University Press

Disturbing new research from Bournemouth University reveals that today's adolescents are better behaved than their parents (predecessors) were 20 years ago but when it comes to drugs, drink and sex girls have now overtaken boys when it comes to bad behaviour in today's society.

Worse yet is the finding that children of smoking parents are more likely to involve themselves in anti-social behaviour including fighting, binge drinking and unprotected sex.

The findings, revealed by Professor Colin Pritchard of Bournemouth University's Institute of Health and Community Studies, and Richard Williams (Social Inclusion Co-ordinator [no institution to maintain confidentiality]), are published in the book Breaking the Cycle of Educational Alienation (Open University Press).

In 2005, Professor Pritchard and his colleague repeated a survey originally completed in 1985, of ‘normal' Year 10 and 11 secondary students to compare and contrast today's adolescent behaviour with that of their ‘parents' of 20 years ago.

A questionnaire was sent out to 10 schools along the south coast of England with 824 pupils aged 14 to 15 completing it in 1985 and 854 pupils of the same age completing it in 2005.

The almost identical questionnaires had around 30 questions on truancy, vandalism, theft, fighting, drinking, drugs and sex.

Students had half an hour to fill in the answers anonymously in an exam setting.

Questions about under-age sex were not allowed on the 1985 form so the results of the 2005 group were compared to other research and national patterns of sexual behaviour in the Eighties.

“The good news and, perhaps, unexpected is that the 2005 youngsters have less problematic behaviour than the 1985 cohort and even with the problematic behaviour - drugs, drink & sex - this is still a minority activity,” says Professor Pritchard. “The bad news, however, is that 20 years ago boys drugged, drank, smoked, truanted, stole, vandalised and fought MORE than girls, today it is very different.

“Girls now significantly smoke and binge drink more than boys. They truant, steal and fight at similar rates to boys but have started under-aged sex earlier than boys with 17% of lads in Year 11 having their First-Sexual-Intercourse [FSI] whereas 31% of Year 11 girls have had their FSI, indicating they are going with older boys,” Professor Pritchard continues.

The picture is even more bleak for children of smoking parents who are four times more likely to smoke themselves, are twice as likely to steal, get into fights and become sexually active at an early age, are two and a half times more likely to take drugs and/or binge drink and four times more likely to have unprotected sex than children of parents who do not smoke.

“It is not that smoking `causes' the students behaviour, but it reflects something of their personal, family and social relationships,” Professor Pritchard concludes. “What we're saying through this work is that we have to reach out to parents and show how the cycle of educational and societal alienation must and can be broken to enable parents and schools to work together to contribute to children's educational, social and emotional well-being.”

Professor Pritchard recommends the study provides the evidence to ensure that ‘Every Child Matters' can become a reality, and give the most disadvantaged child a real chance.

In this groundbreaking book, the authors explore a highly successful initiative in a school with severe socio-economic disadvantages which, in conjunction with a school-based social work service, developed an effective family-teacher-community alliance and demonstrate the substantial improvements that can bring about a reduction in truancy, delinquency and exclusion, as well as reducing the need for families to be placed on the `At Risk of Abuse' register.