Globe and Mail

Alarm raised over students behaving badly

Study finds widespread drunkenness, truancy

Education Reporter
Wednesday, September 15, 1999

An alarming number of Canadian students are smoking, getting "really drunk" and cutting class, says a comprehensive new Health Canada study to be released soon.

Drug use is up, bullying is common and there is a lot of unsupervised "hanging out," Health Canada said, documenting disturbing behaviour that affects school performance for students from Grade 6 to Grade 10.

More than half of Canadian students are relatively satisfied with school, but "there is a core of kids that we don't seem to be reaching very well, and it's substantial," said educational researcher Alan King, one of the survey's authors.

The study, part of a World Health Organization project, found that 43 per cent of 15-year-old Canadian boys and 42 per cent of 15-year-old Canadian girls had been "really drunk" at least twice in their lives. More than 90 per cent reported that they had tried alcohol, easily accessible in most homes, by the time they reached Grade 10.

Of the 11 countries surveyed, only Denmark and England fared worse on the getting-drunk question.

Seventy-one per cent of Danish boys and 63 per cent of Danish girls reported that they had been really drunk at least twice by the time they were 15, while 59 per cent of English boys and 52 per cent of English girls reported the same.

Skipping class has emerged as a major problem in Canadian schools, even in elementary school. By Grade 6, 29 per cent of the boys had skipped and 25 per cent of the girls had cut classes at least once. By Grade 10, 21 per cent of boys had skipped one or two days and 22 per cent had skipped three or more, while 24 per cent of the girls had skipped one or two days and 20 per cent had skipped at least three.

Health Canada's final report on youth, based on a 1998 survey of students from Grades 6 to 10, has not been released. Comparative results from previous years have not yet been published. However, preliminary findings and an interview with Dr. King have been published in the current issue of the Ontario College of Teachers' magazine, Professionally Speaking.

Skipping provides opportunities for cigarette, drug and alcohol use and "appears to be an indicator of alienation and disengagement," says the college's report.

After-hours hanging out, without adult supervision, also provides opportunities for risky behaviour.

By the time they are age 13, 33 per cent of Canadian boys and 22 per cent of Canadian girls spend five or more evenings out with friends -- a trend that alarms Dr. King, an internationally renowned professor emeritus from Queen's University.

"Our kids receive less parent time and are slightly less likely to have open relationships with their parents than in other countries," he said.

Not surprisingly, the researchers found that above-average students are more likely to be well-adjusted at school and have good relationships with their parents.

A Health Canada spokesman said the full report, called Trends in the Health of Canadian Youth, will be released next month. However, the preview article in the College of Teachers' magazine already contains plenty of indicators that parents and teachers must do more to engage Canadian teenagers in school and at home.

In addition to presenting statistics on drinking and skipping, the survey reports a steady increase in smoking since 1990, in spite of all the antismoking messages aimed at students.

Beer consumption is down, but there has been a sharp increase in the use of marijuana and hashish between 1994 and 1998.

The survey found that bullying remains a serious problem, with a small, but significant, minority of students feeling unsafe at school.

"Ten per cent of Grade 9 boys said their friends carry weapons," the College of Teachers magazine reports. "Most say this is done for protection."

Dennis Huculak, supervisor of leadership services for Edmonton Public Schools, said yesterday that 62 of the 161 students expelled last year were expelled for weapons offences, usually possession or threatening. He attributed the increase in expulsions and suspensions in the Edmonton school system more to tougher enforcement than deteriorating behaviour.

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