TIME MAGAZINE DEVOTES COVER TO UK YOUTH SUBSTANCE PROBLEMS
This story was published by Time magazine, 7 April 2008
Staying home in the face of danger isn’t the British way. After suicide bombings in July 2005, Londoners continued working and socialising. Yet a survey by kids’ charity TS Rebel found that last year over a fifth of Britons avoided going out at night rather than risk encounters with a different form of terror: groups of children.
The boys and girls who casually pick fights, have sex and keep the emergency services fully occupied are often fuelled by cheap booze. British youngsters drink their Continental European counterparts under the table: in 2003, according to the Institute for Public Policy Research, 27% of UK 15-year-olds had been drunk 20 times or more, compared to 12% of young Germans, 6% of Netherlands youth and only 3% of young French.
UK kids were also more likely to try drugs or start smoking young. English girls are the most sexually active in Europe. More of them are having sex aged 15 or younger, and more than 15% fail to use contraception when they do — which means that the UK has high rates of both teen pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases. Small wonder, then, that a 2007 UNICEF study of child wellbeing in 21 industrialised countries placed it firmly at the bottom of the table.
None of those indicators are good, but it’s the increase in nasty teenage crime that really has us spooked. Violent offences by under-18s rose 37% in the three years to 2006. The Sun newspaper declared that “the most important issue now facing Britain” is “the scourge of feral youngsters”. Prime Minister Gordon Brown, at his first press conference of 2008, said: “Kids are out of control.”
“Young people live in a world with very little meaningful contact or engagement with adults,” says Professor Richard Layard of the London School of Economics, who has made a study of the causes of happiness.
This youth culture echoes and magnifies aspects of the adult world around it. Binge-drinking, for example, is hardly the preserve of young Britons. A report by Alcohol Concern noted that one in three UK men and one in five women drink double the amount considered safe at least once a week. And, unlike many UK sports, this pursuit is popular from the bottom of the social spectrum right to the top. Photographs of Princes William and Harry emerging flushed from nightclubs are tabloid staples.
It isn’t just the absence of adults from their lives that contributes to unhappiness among Britain’s teenagers. So do pervasive but invisible social barriers of class and race. Income inequality is greater in Britain than the rest of western Europe, and the gap between its poorest and richest citizens has been growing since the 1980s.
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Addiction Today editor’s comment:
Chief executives of addiction-treatment centres tell me that they are facing an issue with young patients that they never had to face before: instilling a set of values. Young patients need to learn right from wrong, and the value of working to achieve what they want – in a nutshell, they need hope. In one sense, it is not too much to ask.
Instilling standards starts with families – how can we help children whose parents AND grandparents are on drugs or methadone, who are third-generation benefit-dependent?
£10million was wasted by the government trying to get more schoolchildren into university. It was wasted. It should have been spent giving an adequate education to earn a university place. Without realistic basic school-leaving standards, rather than the current farce of pass rates without education, how can they earn an honest and decent living? This is another issue facing addiction-treatment centres: organising education and training for patients when they leave.
If instilling values and giving adequate education had been awarded – as was their right – to these children before they had the opportunity to enter addiction treatment, perhaps they would never have had to travel the harrowing journey there, with all the destruction in their wake it entails.
At every level, experts in recovery should be consulted – and heeded – to redress this degeneration of the UK. Who better than they to advise how to avoid their mistakes, and how to recover their lives so they can give back to the community?