UK children are among world's best behaved

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The Independent Online
IN THE international naughty league, children from Puerto Rico and the United States are the worst behaved, while those from Sweden are angelic in comparison. British children show the same level of bad behaviour as the Germans and the Dutch, according to a study.

Experts believe genetic differences between cultures, the stability of family life, levels of education, wealth and alternative child-rearing practices contribute to differences in levels of bad behaviour in children.

The survey, which looked at child-behavioural reports of more than 13,500 children aged 6 to 17 in 12 cultures, found children in the US and Puerto Rico [a US dependent territory] displayed the most aggressive and delinquent behaviour, followed by Israel and Jamaica. Those children were also more likely to be anxious and depressed. Swedish children were the least likely to be violent and overall displayed the fewest social behavioural problems.

The research, published in this month's American Journal of Psychiatry, showed that while boys were more likely to be aggressive or display delinquent behaviour, girls world-wide were more likely to be anxious or depressed and have problems sleeping.

"The differences in children's behaviour are a result of both environmental and genetic factors," said Alfons Crijnen, a child and adolescent psychiatrist at Erasmus University, Rotterdam, who wrote the study.

"Overall, children who are well-educated are less likely to have behavioural problems. British children have the same level of behaviour as the Dutch and the Germans because they have a similar quality of education and their parents have the same attitudes towards child-rearing."

Dr Crijnen believes the findings will allow more study of how genetics influences behaviour. Child-rearing methods were also seen to have a big influence on behaviour.

Edward Melhuish, a professor of human development at Cardiff University, said that Sweden's anti-smacking policy, which was introduced more than 20 years ago, and which discourages parents from smacking their children, has had a direct effect on the low level of aggression in Swedish children.

"If the form of parental discipline involves violence then the children are more also more likely to use violence. Children who grow up in a home or neighbourhood environment where violence is acceptable tend to be more aggressive."

The findings of the research showed that children in the younger age groups had a greater tendency to be aggressive than those in their teens. In contrast, older children aged 15 to 17 were more likely to become withdrawn and have problems sleeping.

The greatest difference between the sexes was in the Netherlands.

Dutch adolescent boys aged 15 to 17 years were more aggressive and girls less aggressive than the gender trend in other countries.

Who's Bad?

1. Puerto Rico

2. United States

=3. Israel

=3. Jamaica

5. Thailand

6. Australia

7. The Netherlands

8. Britain

9. Germany

10. Sweden

Based on survey of 13,697 children in 12 countries.