Teenagers turn to drugs and secret drinking

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The Independent Online
ABOUT 10 per cent of teenagers think that Aids cannot be passed on by heterosexual sex, while about 3 per cent believe that it can be caught from lavatory seats.

Forty per cent of 14 and 15-year- olds drink secretly at home without their parents' knowledge, and a substantial minority buys alcohol illegally in off-licences, public houses and clubs.

This picture of sex, drink and drugs among Britain's 11 to 16- year-olds is given in a survey published yesterday by the Schools Health Education Unit at Exeter University's School of Education.

The survey, which has been carried out annually since 1986, is based on a questionnaire that is sent to 20,000 young people in 130 schools.

This year's report shows that young people may be at growing risk from the drug Ecstasy which, after cannabis, is the drug that 14 and 15-year-olds are most likely to be offered. More than 20 per cent have been offered cannabis by the time they reach the age of 15. The figure for Ecstasy is 15 per cent.

About 13 per cent have tried cannabis by the age of 15. Solvents and natural hallucinogens come next in popularity.

For the first time, the annual survey shows how much young people worry. The way they look comes top of the list of worries for both 14 to 15-year-old boys (29.4 per cent) and girls (57.2 per cent).

A majority of both sexes worry to some extent about catching the Aids virus but a substantial minority of boys and girls are still not certain that they would take precautions against it.

John Balding, the unit's director, said that the frequent use of alcohol among the young was a continual worry. 'At the moment it is legal to give alcohol to a five- year-old. That limit should be raised to 14. You can't justify giving booze to an 11-year-old at home or anywhere else.'

Even at age 11, the survey shows, 12 per cent of boys are drinking alcohol every week and at least 5 per cent of 14 to 15-year- olds are drinking more than the safe limit for adults.

Mr Balding said that he was also concerned about parties where alcohol was forbidden but drugs were on offer. The use of illegal substances among the young was increasing and more than half the older pupils questioned knew at least one drug-user well enough to name the drug being taken.

The report, paid for by health authorities, looks at how young people earn money (about 30 per cent of girls under the age of 14 are babysitting illegally), when they go to bed (10 pm for 11-year- olds) and their feelings about the opposite sex.

At the age of 11 to 12, about three-quarters said that they had had a boyfriend or girlfriend, although fewer than half of those who responded to the questionnaire said that they had a friend of the opposite sex 'at present'.

Young People in 1992; published by the Schools Health Education Unit; School of Education, Exeter University; pounds 20.