Official: girls are nicer than boys: Survey of 30,000 teenagers finds relationships within the family remain strong

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The nursery rhyme was right after all - girls are much nicer than boys. They work harder, eat more healthily, worry more about their careers and wash more, according to a survey published today.

But even teenage boys are not as bad as some people might think. The view that young people care only for loud music, drugs and under- age sex and that their family relationships have largely broken down, is squashed by a study of almost 30,000 young people in 1993.

Girls looked after themselves better, read more books and did more homework than boys, the survey found, but both sexes got on much better with their parents than might have been expected. Three out of four lived with both parents and more than half turned to them with their problems.

The findings, compiled by the Schools Health Education Unit at the University of Exeter from secondary schools across the UK, reveal that while girls are more conscientious, boys have a higher opinion of themselves.

Girls were more likely to eat wholemeal bread, skimmed milk, fresh fruit and vegetables than boys, and those aged 15 and 16 were almost twice as likely to worry about their health. On average they spent 75 minutes on homework each day while their male classmates spent less than an hour.

Almost all teenagers watched television often, but girls spent more time reading books, writing for pleasure and looking after pets. Boys were more likely to spend their time meeting friends, using computers and watching videos.

Girls worried more than boys, particularly about how they looked and about their careers, and just 35 per cent rated their self-esteem as high compared with 45 per cent of boys.

Almost three out of 10 boys aged 15 and 16 had smoked cannabis and 13 per cent had used hallucinogenic drugs. Among the girls, 20 per cent had tried cannabis and 9 per cent had tried hallucinogens.

Both sexes spent a great deal of time washing, with more than 40 per cent taking at least seven baths or showers per week, but 28 per cent of 15 and 16-year-old girls took eight or more, compared with 23 per cent of boys of that age.

More than 60 per cent of those aged 15 and 16 said they would turn to their parents with a health problem and half said they would go to them with career problems.

John Balding, director of the Schools Health Education Unit, said the findings showed that the family was in a far healthier state than popularly imagined. 'Whenever I read the news it seems to me that the family is being destroyed, yet there is enormous evidence that families are there in abundance and that good and vigorous relationships in which people value one another are in abundance too.'

He said girls seemed to care more about themselves and others than boys: 'If only the boys could learn from the girls, it would be wonderful.'

Leading article, page 13

(Graphs omitted)