As girls get ahead, a generation of boys stays lost in fantasy

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Today's boys are taking refuge in a fantasy world of computer games and violent films and are becoming increasingly reluctant to leave it, according to new research.

Market researchers say society is in danger of creating a generation of "lost boys" whose visions for the future are still clouded in fantasy compared with the practical aspirations of their female peers.

Even by the age of 14, many boys were still saying that their chosen career would be in football, "to enjoy myself and earn lots of money". Or they wanted to be fighter pilots: "I just want to fly a plane". In comparison, girls were intending to be vets, teachers or childcare workers.

The researchers, from the company ChildWise, interviewed 1,014 boys and girls aged between five and fourteen. They felt that the boys had "comparatively little grasp of the realities of the employment world and had largely impracticable notions about jobs". In spite of this, 38 per cent of boys of 13-14 named unemployment as their greatest fear.

Girls have also become more concerned about unemployment than they were two years ago. Those questioned felt they no longer had a choice between a career and having a baby but must earn their own living as well as bring up a family.

While girls surge ahead in the world of education, boys appear less interested in their lessons, watching far more television, especially satellite channels, and playing computer games.

It was found that violent and 18-rated films were seen at an early age. As many as one in ten boys aged five and six had watched the 18-rated film Alien 3 and by the age of 13 or 14, 64 per cent of boys had seen it, compared with only 45 per cent of girls. Judge Dredd, which contains graphic violence, had been watched by 43 per cent of 13- to 14-year-old boys, compared with 19 per cent of girls of the same age.

Boys said they watched 18-rated films not because they were specifically interested in the subject matter but because they were violent and provided a quick thrill. Sex and nudity were often seen as more offensive than violence, described as the sort of images "we shouldn't watch". In each age group, the proportion of boys to girls who had watched rated films was two or three to one.

Rosemary Duff, associate director of ChildWise, said that the children supported a ratings system, but also thought they were mature enough to cope with the films. "In principle, they think a ratings system is a good idea, but they do not feel that they need it for themselves," she said.

Computer games which include violence, such as Street Fighter and Mortal Kombat, are also popular. But boys draw a distinction between violence in films and computer games: graphics are deemed unreal and consequently are not as frightening.

Nine out of ten children now have a computer or a games machine at home. But while 44 per cent of the 9- to 10-year-old boys had a computer in their own room, only three in ten girls had. Boys were more likely to talk about games on their computer while girls mentioned learning programmes.

Ms Duff said that watching so many violent films did not appear to make the boys violent. However, their addiction to television and games showed their avoidance of reality. "They are flying fantasy kites. They don't expect to get what they want," she said. "Essentially, they are deferring growing up."

8 ChildWise Monitor 96/97 can be obtained from ChildWise, 0171 287 3565; pounds 495.