Criminal behaviour starts as young as 10

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The Independent Online

Boredom remains the excuse of choice for teenagers who find themselves on the wrong side of the law.

Boredom remains the excuse of choice for teenagers who find themselves on the wrong side of the law.

They also blame their delinquency on the influence of friends, pressure to impress their peers, drinking, truanting and taking drugs.

If a child has not broken the law by the age of 14, the chances are he or she never will. Teenage offenders tend to commit their first crime at 10 or 11, and to be playing truant at the same time.

They are most likely to dodge fares, scrawl graffiti, go shoplifting or vandalise other people's property.

Perhaps encouraged by low detection rates, offenders from the Class of 2004 also seem to be developing a taste for more serious offences, such as theft from school or their home, as well as assault.

The good news is that fewer are dealing in stolen goods, committing arson or riding in stolen cars.

They are worrying less about crime but, perversely, stand more risk of becoming its victim by being threatened, bullied or having their property stolen.

Perhaps as a result, a large minority of boys have carried a potential weapon, although the most popular is the penknife, which has many innocent uses. Small numbers resort to flick and kitchen knives, and BB and air-guns to ward off possible aggression.

Drinking alcohol is now almost de rigeur among teenagers, with growing numbers also smoking.

But, more positively, the growth in use of illicit drugs among schoolchildren appears to have been stemmed, with cannabis and ecstasy the substances of choice and very few experimenting with the heavier drugs such as heroin or crack.