The Hermione Granger effect: why teenagers are finally starting to say no to drugs and alcohol
Report shows that pupils appear to be leading an increasingly clean-living lifestyle
Jeremy Laurance is a writer on health issues. He is former health editor of The Independent and the i and has covered the specialism for more than 20 years. He thinks the harm medicine does is under-appreciated, the harm it prevents over-rated, and that cycling works better than most drugs. He was named Specialist Journalist of the Year in the 2011 British Press Awards.
Friday 27 July 2012
Say goodbye to the drug-fuelled raver and hello to the clean-living ecowarrior. Teenagers are changing and, for perhaps the first time in history, their parents approve.
Rates of drug- taking, drinking and smoking among children have plummeted in the past decade. Girls, it seems, are more likely to emulate the polite, studious Hermione Granger, played by Emma Watson, pictured right, in the Harry Potter films than wild-child party girls like Peaches Geldof in her heyday.
Among 11 to 15 year olds, the proportion who admitted to having taken drugs fell from 29 per cent in 2001 to 17 per cent in 2011. Regular smokers of at least one cigarette a week halved from one in 10 to one in 20. The number who said they had drunk alcohol in the past week was down from 26 per cent to 12 per cent.
Experts said a "profound shift" had taken place in the new generation's attitude to drink and drugs. The findings were based on a survey of 6,500 children aged 11 to 15 at secondary schools in England, conducted between September and December 2011.
Tim Straughan, the chief executive of the NHS Health and Social Care Information Centre, said: "The report shows pupils appear to be leading an increasingly clean-living lifestyle and are less likely to take drugs as well as cigarettes and alcohol. All of this material will be of immense interest to those who work with young people and aim to steer them towards a healthier way of life."
Siobhan McCann, of the charity Drinkaware, said: "While the decline in the number of children trying alcohol is good news, the report still shows there are 360,000 young people who reported drinking alcohol in the past week alone.
"Parents are the biggest suppliers of alcohol to young people aged 10 to 17 and also the biggest influence on their child's relationship with drink."
Drug-taking, drinking and smoking increases with age, the study found. Among 11-year-olds, fewer than one in 30 said they had taken drugs in the past year, compared with almost one in four 15-year-olds.
Cannabis was the most popular drug but its use fell during the decade. In 2011, one in 13 young people said they had smoked it, compared with one in seven in 2001.
Drug use was found to be highest in southern England and lower in the Midlands and the North. The proportion of children saying they had smoked cigarettes at least once was the lowest since the survey was first carried out in 1982 – reflecting the pressure created by anti-smoking laws. Even so, one in five said they had tried cigarettes and one in 20 did so regularly.
In 2001, one in five teenagers said they drank alcohol at least once a week. By 2011, that proportion was down to one in 14.Miles Beale, of the Wine and Spirit Trade Association, said: "The increase in the number of young people who have never drunk alcohol, and the fact those who do drink appear to be drinking less, suggests that the messages about the risks of underage consumption are being heard."
'Most of us think of our future, and drink won't help'
Rosie Brighton, 13, Watford
"I know a few people my age that drink but not many. When you look at people that turn up for school hung-over, not caring and not getting the grades, it is off-putting. Most of us are working hard to get good exam results because we look at the high unemployment rates and think we'll need all the help we can get. We're thinking about our future, and drink is not going to help that.
"I don't know anyone who smokes or takes drugs. A lot of people are afraid of how mad their parents would be if they were caught. I think health authorities and schools have to educate children about drugs early. I had my first lesson in school about drugs in Year 6, but have been made aware of the dangers by my mum."
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