The Irish Times view on the ESRI’s teen survey: the kids are (mostly) alright

Most of the trends are positive, although some give cause for concern

A new report from the Economic and Social Research Institute(ESRI) offers thought-provoking insights into what it is like to be a teenager in modern Ireland. The Changing Social Worlds of 13-Year-Olds compares the experiences of the generation born in 2008 with that of those born in 1998.

The research was undertaken in 2021/2022 during the latter stages of the pandemic, so the experience of lockdownand remote schooling may have had some influence on the results. Most of the trends are positive, although some give cause for concern.

Perhaps the best news is that financial strain on families, which is a major contributor to negative outcomes for adolescents, has declined significantly since the post-crash years when the 1998 generation entered their teens. That may help to account for a decline in friction between children and parents. This generation is also more involved in organised sport and in cultural activities such as music and drama, as well as being more engaged with core subjects on the curriculum.

While conflict between children and parents has declined overall, this is less true of girls. The report links this to an increase in emotional difficulties among teenage girls, a trend which has been reflected elsewhere in rising demand for mental health services for young people.

READ MORE

The ESRI makes no comment on the ongoing debate about the psychological impact of digital technology on adolescent development but notes a dramatic shift from watching television and playing video games towards other screen-based activities, reflecting the rise of mobile devices and social media. The gender balance has also flipped, with girls now spending more time on screens than boys. Meanwhile, 13-year-olds now have fewer close friends.

What is clear is that the main factors in determing how happy and engaged teenagers are at home and in school are social and financial. Economic disadvantage, disability and marginalisation lead to negative outcomes, a fact that should be borne in mind by policy-makers.