Bullying is parents' big fear as children start secondary school, survey finds

Parents say bullying is greater concern than alcohol, while children themselves worry most about making the right friends

Parents' greatest fears when their child starts secondary school are that they will be bullied or will not do well, rather than whether they will smoke, drink or use drugs, a survey has revealed.

But their offspring's number one concern is making the right sort of friends as they make the transition to their new environment, the same findings show.

When 1,000 parents and their children, aged 10-14, were asked about the pressures and challenges involved in going to secondary school, the prospect of their child being bullied in person topped parents' list, with 33% citing it as their biggest worry. That was followed by their desire to see their son or daughter doing well at school (28%) and making the right kind of friends (21%).

The same three fears also dominated their children's thinking, but in a different order. For them, making the right kind of friends came first, with 33% giving it top priority. One in four (24%) said being bullied in person, while 19% listed doing well at school.

Given the concern about young people and addictive substances, only very small numbers of parents and children mentioned them. Among parents, 4% said trying drugs was their top concern, 2% cited smoking and a mere 1% said it was their child drinking alcohol as their top concern that worried them most.

The children questioned for the ICM survey, commissioned by the alcohol education charity Drinkaware, were similarly unperturbed about exposure to such products. Just 3% said trying drugs, 2% smoking and 2% cited alcohol. Being bullied online was the least common concern among that age group, with just 1% giving it as their biggest concern.

Asked to name anything that was worrying them about secondary school, 27% of parents did cite alcohol, 39% mentioned smoking and 40% said trying drugs.

But these were dwarfed by much larger numbers citing in-person bullying (80%), performance at school (76%) and making friends (73%). Just 16% of children mentioned alcohol and only 18% said drugs, while suffering bullying was also their top concern, with 65%.

Figures released last month showed that 6,580 people under 18 had to be admitted to hospital last year in the UK for alcohol-related reasons, down from 7,821 a year earlier. They included 293 children aged 11 or younger who needed to be taken to hospital to treat a problem caused by drinking, a 35% rise on the year before.

Drinkaware advised that parents set aside any complacency and warn their children from a young age about the consequences of drinking, such as sexual assault or getting a sexually transmitted infection. "While issues such as bullying are quite rightly a huge worry for parents, there seems to be a lack of concern about alcohol and the pressure that some children face to drink. Many parents think it is inevitable that children will drink and consider it a rite of passage rather than something that can bring harm and have wide-reaching consequences," said Elaine Hindal, chief executive of the charity, which is funded by the alcohol industry.

She added: "It is clear that drinking underage puts children at risk, so it's vital that parents take a proactive approach and initiate meaningful conversations with their children about the dangers of alcohol."


Denis Campbell

The GuardianTramp

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