Children 'better behaved today than 20 years ago'

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The much-maligned youth of today are actually better behaved than their parents were 20 years ago, according to research.

But when it comes to drugs, drink and sex, girls have overtaken boys for bad behaviour in today's society. Children of parents who smoke are also more likely to get involved in behaviour such as fighting, binge drinking and unprotected sex.

The research, by Colin Pritchard, of Bournemouth University's Institute of Health and Community Studies, and Richard Williams, a social inclusion co-ordinator for the university, is published in the book Breaking the Cycle of Educational Alienation. They repeated a survey in 2005 that was originally conducted in 1985 with year 10 and 11 secondary students.

"The good news and, perhaps, unexpected, is that 2005 youngsters have less problematic behaviour than the 1985 cohort, and even with the problematic behaviour, drugs, drink and sex, this is still a minority activity," Professor Pritchard said.

"The bad news, however, is that 20 years ago boys drugged, drank, smoked, truanted, stole, vandalised and fought more than girls. Today it is very different. Girls now significantly smoke and binge-drink more than boys.

"They truant, steal and fight at similar rates to boys, but start under-aged sex earlier than boys, with 17 per cent of lads in year 11 having their first sexual intercourse (FSI), whereas 31 per cent of year 11 girls have had their FSI," he added.

A questionnaire was sent to 10 schools along the south coast, with 824 pupils aged 14 to 15 completing it in 1985, and 854 pupils of the same age completing it in 2005. Questions about under-age sex were not allowed on the 1985 form, so the results of the 2005 group were compared to other research.