Good news for par­ents comes with new warn­ing

Ado­les­cence risky for teens de­spite less binge drink­ing, smok­ing and preg­nan­cies

Weekend Herald - - VIEWPOINTS - Our view

Ev­ery par­ent of chil­dren ap­proach­ing their teens must have been pleased to read some so­cial re­search re­ported in the Her­ald on Wed­nes­day.

Re­searcher Jude Ball of Otago Univer­sity’s Welling­ton cam­pus found fewer New Zealand teenagers to­day are binge drink­ing or tak­ing il­licit drugs than they were 10 to 15 years ago, teenage preg­nan­cies are down and smok­ing in this age group has all but dis­ap­peared.

The im­prove­ments are sub­stan­tial. The num­bers aged 16 and 17 binge drink­ing was down to 23 per cent in 2012, com­pared with 40 per cent in a 2001 sur­vey.

Teen births per thou­sand fe­males aged 15- 19 were at 24 per cent in 2013, down from 33 per cent in 1996 and the num­ber of 14 to 15- year- olds smok­ing, 15 per cent at the mil­len­nium, was just 2.5 per cent at last count.

New Zealand is not unusual. Most de­vel­oped coun­tries are find­ing sim­i­lar re­sults.

Ed­u­ca­tion, so of­ten pro­moted as the an­swer to ev­ery­thing, prob­a­bly is. Con­certed ed­u­ca­tional cam­paigns against smok­ing, binge drink­ing and other “risk be­hav­iours” seem to be fi­nally get­ting through.

The mes­sages have been strongly re­in­forced by schools and gen­er­ally by news me­dia for two gen­er­a­tions now, and to­day’s par­ents of teenagers have grown up with them.

The par­ents prob­a­bly de­serve most of the credit for ap­ply­ing the val­ues they ab­sorbed.

But Jude Ball sus­pects another rea­son for the de­cline in risky be­hav­iour — so­cial me­dia.

Some in her field ar­gue so­cial me­dia is re­plac­ing risky be­hav­iour be­cause ado­les­cents no longer need to go out to­gether to be so­cia­ble.

They are in touch with friends con­stantly on their phones and hav­ing as much fun gam­ing on­line as they used to have in com­pany.

Ball points out that not ev­ery­thing about teenagers to­day is bet­ter.

Healthy eat­ing and ex­er­cise are not among the im­prov­ing fig­ures and men­tal health might be de­te­ri­o­rat­ing, though that may be be­cause young peo­ple are given more en­cour­age­ment to share their anx­i­eties to­day.

Nev­er­the­less, de­te­ri­o­rat­ing stan­dards of phys­i­cal and men­tal health are ev­i­dent in the num­bers of over­weight young peo­ple around, the drop in mem­ber­ships of sports clubs and high levels of youth sui­cide.

Can­vas to­day fea­tures Bri­tish nov­el­ist Al­li­son Pear­son writ­ing about teenage parenting, the sub­ject of her sec­ond book. She be­lieves it is harder to be a par­ent to­day than at any time in his­tory.

Teenagers “might be in their own bed­room but there is no respite from the 24- hour con­nect­ed­ness to the peer group, which can bully or in­duce envy and self- loathing.”

One way or another, it seems, ado­les­cence is risky.

If young peo­ple are not get­ting to­gether to en­dan­ger their lives, health and fu­ture plans with al­co­hol, cars and ca­sual sex, they are alone on their phones, in­ac­tive, eat­ing badly, tex­ting and shar­ing more than they should, liv­ing in a vir­tual re­al­ity rather than the phys­i­cal world of com­plete peo­ple, live mu­sic and cul­ture, con­tact sports and gen­uine re­la­tion­ships.

But if con­certed cam­paigns against smok­ing, drink- driv­ing, teenage preg­nancy and the like can have some suc­cess — and surely the trends are en­cour­ag­ing on that score — it must be pos­si­ble to pro­mote more mod­er­ate use of the in­ter­net too.

Teenagers now need to get out more, care­fully.

Al­li­son Pear­son be­lieves it is harder to be a par­ent to­day than at any time in his­tory.

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