One fifth of boys as young as ten are regularly staying out late without their parents knowing where they are, new research reveals.
And, while absent, a large proportion of these children are drinking, smoking and taking drugs. These are the findings from a new Economic and Social Research Council report, which also shows that family income, the number of children in a family and being in a step-family have no bearing on whether a child stays out without their parents’ knowledge. But the quality of the emotional relationship the child has with his or her parents – in other words, whether they confide in their parents frequently or quarrel often - and whether they live in a city or the country does.
The study comes less than a year after the riots that swept UK cities last summer, in which children as young as nine were said to have taken part and looted stores.
But frequent claims that straightforward “bad parenting” is to blame for children gone AWOL are refuted by the research. Dr Maria Iacovou, from the Institute for Social and Economic Research at the University of Essex, who analysed the data, said 19 per cent of boys aged ten to 15 who regularly stay out past 9pm have behaviour problems, while 26 per cent of girls doing the same “score highly for hyperactivity”. One third of girls who stay out late also have self-esteem issues. There are no differences between white and Afro-Caribbean youngsters but Scottish teenagers are more likely, and those from Asian backgrounds less likely, to stay out beyond 9pm.
Those living in small towns and villages are less likely to go out at night without their parent’s knowledge than those in larger towns and cities. Similarly, children who travel to school independently – by foot, bicycle, bus or train – are more likely to stay out than those taken to school by car.
Living in social housing or with a single mother also increases the probability of young people staying out without informing their parents of their whereabouts.
Dr Iacovou said: "This study shows that that the factors associated with staying out late without your parents knowing where you are, are complex and cannot simply be attributed to 'bad parenting'. “Geographical location plays a part too and may relate to local entertainment opportunities. Other factors such as the mode of travel to school probably relate to independence on the part of young people and trust on the part of their parents; while others, most notably family relationships, demonstrate that social and emotional deprivation also plays a role."
Boys are more likely than girls to stay out beyond 9pm without their parents knowing their whereabouts, and by the age of 15 36 per cent of boys and nearly 25 per cent of girls stay out at least once a month without their parents knowing where they have gone.
The report, called Understanding Society, questioned more than 2,000 ten to 15-year-olds on their habits after 9pm.
Researchers also found an association between 15-year-olds who regularly stay out without their parents’ knowledge and problem behaviours such as smoking, drinking and cannabis use. In fact, there is a stronger association with girls than with boys in terms of drinking and cigarettes. Some 64 per cent of 15 year old girls who stay out frequently past 9pm without their parent's knowledge consume alcohol more than once in the last month, compared with only 25 per cent of girls who hadn't stayed out in the past month.
And 18 per cent of 15-year-old girls who have not stayed out past 9pm smoke, rising to 51 per cent among girls who stay out frequently. Five times more boys who frequently stay out late without their parents knowing where they are report ever having used cannabis, compared to boys who do not stay out late. Dr Iacovou said: "Staying out late does not cause young people to smoke and drink, but regularly staying out late without telling their parents where they are is symptomatic of a young person with underlying problems."