British teens are `Europe's delinquents'

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The Independent Online
TEENAGERS FROM the British Isles take themselves less seriously than those in the rest of Europe, according to research. A study of children from five big cities found that those from Newcastle and Dublin were the most likely to use cannabis, shoplift, fight in the street and vandalise buildings.

"Teenagers from different cities seem to have quite different outlooks on life. Those in Continental Europe take themselves and their futures far more seriously," said Aoife Brinkley, of the psychology department at Trinity College, London. She presents her findings today at a meeting of the Royal College of Psychiatrists.

The research involved nearly 3,500 children, aged 14 and 15, from Bremen in Germany, Groningen in the Netherlands, Rome, Dublin and Newcastle.

"Substance misuse and delinquent behaviour were highest in Dublin and Newcastle, where the policies promote `abstinence is good'. In the Netherlands, where cannabis is decriminalised and the policy is much more one of teaching children about different drugs from an early age, less children had tried [drugs]," Ms Brinkley said.

The teenagers were asked about smoking, drinking and drug-taking as well as their attitudes to substance use and how they spent their free time.

One in 10 surveyed had tried cannabis and one in 10 had smoked it in the previous four weeks. But in Newcastle and Dublin, the number smoking cannabis was one in seven. Teenagers in Groningen and Rome were the least likely to have tried cannabis, with less than one in 20 saying they had smoked it in the previous four weeks. The findings showed that boys smoked cannabis at a younger age than girls. A third of the male users and a fifth of the female users had tried it by the time they were aged 12.

Teenagers in Newcastle and Dublin were also more likely to have tried "harder" drugs. In Newcastle, 7 per cent had taken amphetamines, 6 per cent had sniffed glue and 5 per cent had tried "magic mushrooms".

Children from Newcastle and Dublin were also found to be more aggressive and showed more signs of delinquent behaviour. Nearly 50 per cent of those in Dublin had fought in public and 33 per cent in Newcastle, compared with 11 per cent in Rome and 25 per cent in Groningen. They were also more likely to write graffiti - over 50 per cent in Dublin and over 33 per cent in Newcastle, compared with less than 25 per cent in the continental cities.

Traditionally, the rate of substance use among boys is double that among girls but the findings of this survey showed there was no difference between the sexes, although boys started at a younger age.

The researchers believe the differences in attitudes and use of drugs should be taken into account when designing policies and strategies to curb drug abuse.

"The importance of effective prevention strategies in reducing the demand for psycho-active substances is recognised and acknowledged in all states of Europe," Ms Brinkley said. "It does seem that in countries where they accept children are going to use drugs and focus on teaching them not to misuse them, teenagers are less likely to do so."

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