YOUNG people in Darlington vastly over-estimate the risky activities of their peers, research has shown. When it comes to underage drinking, sex and drug-taking the town’s teens are a more clean-cut bunch than even they believe. A survey conducted by the Darlington Drug and Alcohol Action Team quizzed almost 4,000 secondary school pupils about their lives.
Results showed that the majority of those aged between 11 and 16 wildly overestimate the amount of illicit activity their friends and peers indulge in. Despite figures showing a decrease in young people actually having sex, drinking, smoking and taking drugs, the perceptions around those activities paint a very different picture.
When it comes to sexual activity, 86 per cent of the 3,591 children surveyed said they had never had sexual intercourse. However, 78 per cent of them overestimated the sexual activity of their peers, guessing that around 38 per cent of them had had sex. Similarly, 80 per cent of young people thought more of their friends took drugs than is the case.
Only six per cent admitted ever taking drugs but the estimated figure was much higher, standing at 29 per cent. School pupils hit the bottle much less than they believe, too. Alcohol consumption is falling yet estimates are rising, with 14 per cent of students admitting they had had alcohol within the previous week, compared to their average estimate of 48 per cent.
Danny Brown, the leader of the UK Youth Parliament for Darlington, said the overestimations were a result of pupils exaggerating their exploits in a bid to impress their peers. The 14-year-old said: “We live in a modern world where everything moves too fast and people want to fit in so exaggerate to try and impress others.
“They need to realise that they don’t need to make themselves sound better because real friends like you for who you are.” Councillor Cyndi Hughes, cabinet member for children and young people, said: “This research echoes similar findings from across the world.
“Young people all over over-estimate what their peers are doing and, left unchecked, this may cause them to adjust their behaviour to be more like their friends and do what they think they’re doing to fit in.
“It’s important to feedback this research to tell young people that their friends are not all having sex, drinking and doing drugs.”