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4102.0 - Australian Social Trends, 2002  
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Contents >> Family >> Living Arrangements: Selected risks faced by teenagers

Living Arrangements: Selected risks faced by teenagers

In 1998, 82% of teenagers aged 14-19 years reported that they had been offered or had the opportunity to use alcohol. For tobacco, the proportion was 69%, and for marijuana, 48%.

The teenage years are formative years,encompassing the transition from childhood to adulthood; the growth of individual identity; extension of friendships, relationships and interests outside the family; and the progression towards emotional and financial independence. These years can also be a time when children push at the boundaries they are given and become increasingly exposed to influences outside the family sphere. In this environment, teenagers can be vulnerable to pressures to conform to the behaviour of their peers and other role models presented to them in popular culture. Among males, that conformity can often involve the risk taking behaviour that is part of the stereotype of masculinity.1

This article examines some of the risks that teenagers face - they are not necessarily unique to teenagers, but many are faced for the first time during those years. The risks examined here are exposure to legal and illegal drugs; injury, accidents and mental health conditions; and criminal activity. Most of the risk behaviours discussed were generally more prevalent among older teenagers. For example, there were more deaths among older teenagers and rates of both criminal victimisation and offending were higher among older teenagers.


Teenagers
Although this article examines teenagers aged 13-19 years, few data sources cover this whole age range. Because of this, a smaller age range has been used when examining some issues. The data presented come from a range of sources, including: the 1998 National Drug Strategy Household Survey published by the Australian Institute of Heath and Welfare; and the 1998 Child and Adolescent Component of the National Survey of Mental Health and Wellbeing published by the Commonwealth Department of Health and Ageing.

National data on juvenile criminal offenders are not available because of differences in State laws and the age at which a teenager is considered an adult. In this article, New South Wales Criminal Courts Statistics 2000, published by the New South Wales Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research, are used to indicate the types of offences committed by teenage offenders.


Drugs
For some teenagers, drugs can represent a major risk. Although adolescents may have access to many illicit drugs, alcohol and tobacco are the ones most readily available and most commonly consumed. The influence of peers in drug experimentation is reflected in the proportions of individuals who said that friends and acquaintances were the source of their drug.

In 1998, the National Drug Strategy Household Survey asked adolescents aged 14-19 years whether they had been offered or had the opportunity to use any of a list of drugs during the previous year. The results demonstrate the availability of drugs to teenagers, though this does not necessarily imply use. Alcohol (82%), tobacco (69%), marijuana (48%), and painkillers (40%) were the drugs most commonly reported as being available. Notably, cocaine (4%), heroin (3%) and barbiturates (2%) were much less available.

MOST COMMON DRUGS AVAILABLE(a) TO TEENAGERS AGED 14-19 YEARS - 1998

(a) Had been offered or had the opportunity to use in the last 12 months.
(b) For non-medical purposes.

Source: Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, 1998 National Drug Strategy Household Survey, Detailed Findings, 2000.


In 1998, the three most commonly available drugs among adolescents aged 14-19 years were also the three most commonly used. Alcohol was the most commonly consumed drug - 33% of males and 27% of females aged 14-19 years were regular drinkers, that is they drank alcohol on at least one day per week. A further 38% of males and 44% of females drank less frequently than that, while 21% of males and 24% of females had never drunk alcohol.

Teenage recent drinkers (those who had consumed alcohol during the previous year) particularly favoured bottled spirits (63%) and regular beer (47%). Teenage respondents stated that parties (77%) were a common place of consumption, along with their own home (49%) and licensed premises (43%). Under-age recent drinkers (those aged less than 18 years) most commonly received their first drink from a friend or acquaintance (41%), though among under-age males, parents were the most common source (43%). The most common source of current supply was from a friend or acquaintance for both under-age males and females (39% and 47% respectively).

Alcohol often plays a large part in risk taking behaviour, particularly in relationship to drinking and driving: alcohol is implicated in about one-third of all motorist deaths and nearly half of all pedestrian deaths in the total population.2

TEENAGERS AGED 14-19 YEARS: CONSUMPTION OF SELECTED DRUGS - 1998

Males
Females
Selected drug/frequency of use
%
%

Alcohol drinking status
    Regular(a)
33.0
27.3
    Occasional(b)
37.5
43.9
    Ex-drinker
8.2
4.6
    Never
21.3
24.3
Tobacco smoking status
    Regular(c)
16.3
15.8
    Occasional(d)
8.4
10.1
    Ex-smoker
27.3
29.1
    Never smoked
48.1
45.0
Marijuana/cannabis use
    Life time use(e)
45.3
45.1
    Recent users(f)
35.6
34.6
    Never used
54.7
54.9

(a) Drinks alcohol on at least one day per week.
(b) Drinks alcohol less often than one day per week.
(c) Smokes daily/most days.
(d) Smokes less often than daily/most days.
(e) Had used marijuana at some time in their life.
(f) Had used marijuana in the past 12 months.

Source: Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, 1998 National Drug Strategy Household Survey, Detailed Findings, 2000.


Tobacco use among teenagers aged 14-19 years was less common than drinking alcohol. 48% of males and 45% of females had never smoked, while a further 27% of males and 29% of females aged 14-19 years classed themselves as ex-smokers. Among both males and females 16% were regular smokers (smoked daily or on most days), and a smaller proportion were occasional smokers (8% and 10% respectively). Like under-age drinkers, under-age smokers commonly obtained their first cigarette from a friend or acquaintance. This was particularly the case among females: nearly three-quarters (73%) obtained their first cigarette from a friend or acquaintance. Among males, the corresponding figure was 59%.

Marijuana is the most commonly consumed illicit drug among teenagers. In 1998, nearly half (45%) of all teenagers aged 14-19 years had tried marijuana at some time in their life. Although 35% of teenagers aged 14-19 years had used marijuana during the past year, many of these recent users were infrequent users - 57% of male recent users and 75% of female recent users had used marijuana once a month or less often. Nonetheless, 11% of male recent users and 13% of female recent users had used marijuana every day. Male recent users were more likely than female recent users to be users once a week or more (33% and 13% respectively).

Although these drugs are discussed individually, in reality, multiple use is common. For example, among teenagers who had smoked tobacco in the previous year, 96% had also drunk alcohol and 76% had also used marijuana in that year.3

CONSUMPTION OF MARIJUANA AMONG TEENAGE RECENT USERS(a) AGED 14-19 YEARS - 1998

(a) Had used marijuana in the past 12 months.

Source: Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, 1998 National Drug Strategy Household Survey, Detailed Findings, 2000.


Injury and death
In 1999-2000, teenagers aged 13-19 years had a hospitalisation rate for external causes (such as accidents, poisonings, violence and self-harm) of 2,750 per 100,000. The hospitalisation rate for males aged 13-19 years (3,688 per 100,000) was around double that for females (1,765 per 100,000) - this difference may be related to both the different types of physical activities undertaken by male and female teenagers and the tendency for males to take more risks than females.

The most common individual cause of injury resulting in hospitalisation among teenagers was transport accidents. These accounted for 20% of all hospitalisations for injuries among teenagers aged 13-19 years - a rate of 557 per 100,000. This rate was notably higher than the rate for the total population (305 per 100,000). Teenagers also had higher rates of hospitalisation than the total population for injuries arising from intentional self-harm and assault. These two causes each represented 7% of hospitalisations among teenagers and had rates of 198 and 183 per 100,000 respectively compared with rates of 139 and 119 per 100,000 respectively for the total population.

There are notable differences in hospitalisation rates for male and female teenagers. The hospitalisation rate for male teenagers for injuries due to transport accidents was over double the rate for females (779 per 100,000 compared with 323). Injuries due to assault were also more common among males; their hospitalisation rate was over three times that for females (281 per 100,000 compared with 80). In contrast, the hospitalisation rate for females due to injuries from intentional self-harm was nearly three times that for males (293 per 100,000 compared with 107).

TEENAGERS AGED 13-19 YEARS AND THE TOTAL POPULATION: HOSPITALISATION RATES FOR SELECTED INJURIES(a) - 1999-2000

Teenagers aged 13-19 years

Males
Females
Total
Total population
External cause
rate(a)
rate(a)
rate(a)
rate(a)

Transport accidents
779
323
557
305
    Car occupant
232
186
210
124
    Motorcyclist
230
20
127
59
    Pedal cyclist
210
24
120
45
    Pedestrian
46
26
36
30
Falls
720
193
463
843
Complications of medical and surgical care
340
349
344
1,431
Intentional self-harm
107
293
198
139
Assault
281
80
183
119
Accidental poisoning by noxious substances
68
95
82
85
Exposure to heat, smoke, fire and flames
54
17
36
42
All hospitalisations(b)
3,688
1,765
2,750
3,712

(a) Hospital separations for external causes per 100,000.
(b) All hospitalisations for external causes, includes causes not listed. Some hospitalisations can involve more than one external cause.

Source: AIHW National Hospital Morbidity Database.


Although the death rate in 2000 among teenagers (43 per 100,000) was low compared with the total population (670 per 100,000), this still represented 804 teenage deaths in that year. Of those deaths, over two-thirds were older teenagers (aged 17-19 years) and 69% were male, again reflecting in part the male predilection to risk taking behaviour. Accidents were by far the most common cause of death among teenagers, particularly for males. In 2000, accidents accounted for 50% of deaths among younger male teenagers (aged 13-16 years) and 51% of deaths among older male teenagers (aged 17-19 years). Among female teenagers, accidents accounted for 39% of deaths among younger teenagers and 45% among older teenagers.

The most common cause of accidental death among teenagers was motor vehicle accidents, again, particularly for males. In 2000, 39% of deaths of older male teenagers were due to a motor vehicle accident; among younger male teenagers the proportion was 29%. In both age groups the proportion for females was lower - 35% of older female teenage deaths and 25% of younger teenage deaths were caused by motor vehicle accidents.

Youth suicide has become an increasingly prominent cause of death among teenagers, due to both increases in suicide rates and decreases in death rates due to motor vehicle accidents (see Australian Social Trends 1994, Youth suicide). Despite this, suicide rates among 15-19 year old males continue to be lower than those for older age groups, and although rates in this age group increased during the 1980s, they have been more stable in recent years.4

Suicide accounted for 19% of deaths among older teenagers (aged 17-19 years) in 2000, making it the second most common cause of death in that age group. Among younger teenagers (aged 13-16 years), it was the third most common cause of death (accounting for 12% of all deaths in that age group). In the older group, the male and female proportions were similar, but among the younger group (those aged 13-16 years), females were slightly more likely to have died from suicide than other causes of death compared with males (14% compared with 11%). However, because there were considerably more male deaths than female deaths overall, 60% of suicides among younger teenagers and 72% of suicides among older teenagers were male.

Deaths due to suicide only partly tell the story of self-harm among teenagers. The hospitalisation rates due to deliberate self-harm are relatively high among female teenagers (293 per 100,000 in 1998-99 for females aged 13-19 years compared with 139 per 100,000 for the total population). Among males aged 13-19 years the rate was lower at 107 per 100,000 (the male hospitalisation rate for self-harm peaked at older ages, in the late 20s and early 30s).4

CAUSES OF DEATH AMONG TEENAGERS - 2000

Teenagers aged 13-16 years
Teenagers aged 17-19 years


Cause of death
Males
Females
Total
Males
Females
Total

%
%
%
%
%
%
Motor vehicle traffic accidents
28.5
24.7
27.2
38.7
34.8
37.5
Suicide
10.9
14.1
12.0
19.3
18.6
19.1
Other accidents(a)
19.4
9.4
16.0
8.9
3.1
7.2
Cancer
7.3
17.6
10.8
5.3
6.8
5.8
Diseases of the nervous system
14.5
3.5
10.8
4.1
3.1
3.8
Accidental poisoning by drugs
1.8
4.7
2.8
3.1
6.8
4.2
Assault
1.8
3.5
2.4
3.8
3.7
3.8
Other causes of death
15.8
22.4
18.0
16.8
23.0
18.6
All teenage deaths
100.0
100.0
100.0
100.0
100.0
100.0

no.
no.
no.
no.
no.
no.
All teenage deaths
165
85
250
393
161
554

(a) Excludes accidental poisoning by drugs and motor vehicle traffic accidents.

Source: ABS 2000 Causes of Death collection.


Mental health
During the teenage years mental health problems can emerge as significant causes of ill health. Evidence from other countries suggests that mental health problems among young people are increasing, and it seems likely that a similar situation exists in Australia.5 The 1998 National Survey of Mental Health and Wellbeing (commissioned by the Mental Health Branch of the Commonwealth Department of Health and Aged Care) established that children and adolescents with relatively more emotional and behavioural problems had more difficulties than their peers in many other areas of their lives (for example, self esteem, peer relationships and school activities). Adolescents who reported relatively more problems were also more likely to report using tobacco, alcohol and/or marijuana. These findings reinforce the need for measuring and monitoring the mental health of teenagers and investing in preventative measures. In 1998, 13% of both male and female Australian teenagers aged 13-17 years had mental health problems that scored in the clinical range (that is their score on the relevant behaviour problem scale was in the range typically reported for those of the same age and sex attending mental health clinics).

PREVALENCE OF SELECTED MENTAL HEALTH PROBLEMS AMONG TEENAGERS AGED 13-17 YEARS - 1998

Observed by parents
Self reported


Males
Females
Males
Females
Total
Type of problem
%
%
%
%
%

Delinquent behaviour(a)
6.4
5.9
11.5
12.4
11.9
Aggressive behaviour
5.0
4.0
6.2
9.1
7.6
Attention problems
4.8
4.6
7.1
6.6
6.9
Anxious/depressed
3.6
3.6
6.7
6.8
6.8
Somatic complaints(b)
10.6
6.8
6.3
6.6
6.5
Social problems(c)
3.8
3.0
3.4
3.5
3.5
Thought problems(d)
3.4
3.1
3.3
2.7
3.0
Withdrawn
4.8
4.2
3.1
2.9
3.0

(a) Breaking rules and norms set by parents and communities.
(b) Chronic physical complaints without known cause or medically verified basis.
(c) Impaired peer relationships.
(d) Strange behaviours or ideas, obsessions.

Source: Mental Health and Special Programs Branch, Commonwealth Department of Health and Aged Care, Mental Health of Young People in Australia, 2000.


The survey recorded both the parent's observation of their teenager and the teenager's self assessment. For some conditions, the reporting rates differed. Teenagers reported higher rates than parents for a number of specific conditions, particularly delinquent and aggressive behaviour, and anxiety and depression.

The most common mental health problem reported by teenagers aged 13-17 years in 1998 was delinquent behaviour (12% of both males and females). This was followed by aggressive behaviour (6% of males and 9% of females) and attention problems (7% of both males and females). Anxiety and depression ranked fourth overall (7% of both males and females).

Teenagers, perhaps due to inexperience, can be vulnerable to those ideals portrayed in popular culture that link slimness to physical attractiveness. This is perhaps reflected in the high prevalence of weight consciousness among teenagers, particularly females. In 1998, nearly half (47%) of females aged 13-17 years were exercising to control weight and just over a quarter (26%) were dieting to control weight. The more extreme practice of vomiting or using laxatives to lose weight was practised by 3% of females aged 13-17 years. Among males aged 13-17 years, weight consciousness was lower; 26% were exercising to control weight and 7% were dieting.

TEENAGERS AGED 13-17 YEARS: DIETING AND EXERCISE BEHAVIOUR - 1998

Source: Mental Health and Special Programs Branch, Commonwealth Department of Health and Aged Care, Mental Health of Young People in Australia, 2000.


Crime
In 2000, about 2% of teenagers aged 15-19 years were recorded by police as victims of selected crimes. The most common offence suffered by these teenagers was assault (a rate of 1,525 per 100,000), followed by robbery (348 per 100,000) and sexual assault (239 per 100,000).

The 1998 Crime and Safety Survey found that teenagers aged 15-19 years had the highest rates for all ages of victimisation for robbery and assault. Among women aged 18 years and over, 18-19 year old women had the highest rate of victimisation for sexual assault. The survey also established that teenagers were the least likely of all ages to report these crimes to the police (38% reporting rate for robbery and 17% reporting rate for assault among teenagers aged 15-19 years).6

Victimisation rates presented for teenagers for the year 2000 are based only on crimes that were reported to and recorded by the police. Consequently, the rates presented are likely to be an underestimate of some types of criminal victimisation.

MOST COMMON SELECTED OFFENCES(a): VICTIMISATION RATES(b) - 2000

Teenagers aged 15-19 years

Males
Females
Total(c)
Total population
rate(b)
rate(b)
rate(b)
rate(b)

Offence
    Assault
1,731
1,298
1,525
737
    Robbery
548
135
348
122
    Sexual assault
54
431
239
82
    Abduction/kidnapping
6
18
12
4
    Driving causing death
4
2
3
1

(a) Based on victims of crime reported to and recorded by police. Only nationally comparable crimes are included.
(b) Rate per 100,000.
(c) Includes sex not stated.

Source: Recorded Crime, Australia, 2000 (ABS cat. no. 4510.0) and ABS 2000 Recorded Crime Collection.


In 2000, teenage males aged 15-19 years were more likely to be victims of assault (other than sexual assault) than teenage females, with rates of 1,731 per 100,000 and 1,298 per 100,000 respectively. Teenage males were also more likely than teenage females to be victims of robbery, with rates of 548 and 135 per 100,000 respectively. However, teenage victims of sexual assault were more likely to be female: the female rate of 431 per 100,000 was eight times greater than for males (54 per 100,000).

National data on juvenile criminal offenders are not available because of differences in State laws and the age at which a teenager is considered an adult. In this article data for the year 2000 from New South Wales are used to indicate the type of offences committed by Australian teenagers for which they attend court. In 2000, 9,200 juvenile offenders aged over 12 years appeared in New South Wales Children's courts - a charge rate of 1,735 per 100,000 teenagers aged 13-18 years in New South Wales. Although this is lower than the adult charge rate for local and higher courts in New South Wales (2,623 per 100,000), this may be because juveniles who commit less serious offences can be diverted from court by using processes such as warnings, cautions and conferences.7

The five most common offences in the New South Wales Children's Court for offenders aged 13-17 years were assault (18% of all Children's Court appearances), theft (except motor vehicle) (14%), burglary, break and enter (12%), disorderly conduct (8%), and motor vehicle theft and related offences (8%). Overall, 83% of teenager offenders aged 13-17 years were male.

TEENAGE JUVENILES(a) CHARGED IN NEW SOUTH WALES CHILDREN'S COURT - 2000

Proportion male

Selected offences
%
%
    Assault
17.7
77.4
    Theft (except motor vehicle)
13.7
74.9
    Burglary, break and enter
11.9
90.3
    Disorderly conduct
8.3
83.5
    Motor vehicle theft and related offences
7.7
88.4
    Robbery
7.2
84.6
    Breach of justice order
5.9
82.4
    Property damage
5.7
86.7
    Receiving or handling proceeds of crime
5.1
81.4
    Possession/use illicit drugs
3.5
84.2
Total selected offences
86.7
. .

no.
%
Total court appearances
9,192
82.9

(a) Offenders were aged 13-17 years at the time of the offence but could be aged 13-18 years or over at the time of their court appearance - based on appearances finalised.

Source: New South Wales Criminal Courts Statistics 2000, New South Wales Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research, 2001.


Endnotes
1 Patience, A. 1992, 'A cultural context for adolescent mental health' in Breaking Out: Challenges in Adolescent Mental Health in Australia, eds Kosky, R., Eshkevari, H. and Kneebone, G., National Health and Medical Research Council, AGPS, Canberra.

2 Ridolfo, B. and Stevenson, C. 2001, The Quantification of Drug-caused Mortality and Morbidity in Australia, 1998, Cat. no. PHE 29, Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, Canberra.

3 Adhikari, P. and Summerill, A. 2000, 1998 National Drug Strategy Household Survey: Detailed findings, Cat. no. PHE 27, Drug Statistics Series No.6, Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, Canberra.

4 Steenkamp, M. and Harrison, J. 2000, Suicide and Hospitalised Self-Harm in Australia, Injury Research and Statistics Series, Cat. no. INCAT 30, Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, Adelaide.

5 Moon, L., Meyer, P. and Grau, J. 1999, Australia's Young People: Their Health and Wellbeing 1999, Cat. no. PHE 19, Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, Canberra.

6 Australian Bureau of Statistics 1998, Crime and Safety, Australia, cat. no. 4509.0, ABS, Canberra.

7 NSW Department of Juvenile Justice, 1994, Breaking the Crime Cycle: New Directions in Juvenile Justice in NSW: White Paper, Sydney.



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