Young people optimistic about community relations in Northern Ireland

The results of the 2007 Young Life and Times Survey offer a fascinating insight into what 16 year olds across Northern Ireland really think about social issues ranging from politics and children’s rights to drinking alcohol and losing weight. The survey is carried out annually by ARK, a joint initiative between Queen’s University and the University of Ulster.

Young Life and Times Director, Dr Dirk Schubotz from the School of Sociology, Social Policy and Social Work at Queen’s said: “In the year when the Northern Ireland Assembly and Executive were re-established, it is particularly noticeable that young people’s optimism about community relations has substantially increased.

“The proportion of 16 year olds saying that relations between Catholics and Protestants are better now than they were five years ago has risen from 48% in 2006 to 61% in 2007. Almost half of respondents (48%) believe that community relations will continue to improve over the next five years, compared with 41% in 2006. Over eight in ten (81%), however, felt that religion will always make a difference to how people in Northern Ireland feel about each other.

“The 627 young people who responded to the survey were also asked about their experiences of activities that can damage their health. Three quarters of them (75%) had drunk alcohol, almost half (45%) had smoked tobacco and 17% had taken illegal drugs.

“The results also revealed that many girls feel under pressure from the media to lose weight. Worryingly, over one third of girls who completed the survey (35%) said they had felt under pressure to lose weight, even though they didn’t want to. Whereas respondents identified friends and peers as the main source of pressure to drink, smoke, take drugs or have sex, the media was cited as the main source of pressure to lose weight.

“The results of the Young Life and Times Survey have given us an interesting insight into the issues faced by Northern Ireland’s first post-conflict generation. It is interesting that just over one third of the 16 year olds who responded felt that the government protects the rights of young people adequately (30%) or very well (7%), and four in ten (39%) felt that they could change the way things are run if they got involved in politics.

“Too often, the opinions of young people are ignored, particularly in relation to issues that directly affect them. The Young Life and Times Survey invites 16 year olds to tell us about their views on a range of social issues, and the 2007 survey covers more subject areas than any of our previous studies. It is important that the views of young people are taken into consideration by the people who make the decisions that ultimately affect their lives.”

The Young Life and Times survey team will release more detailed information on the findings relating to cross-community contact, family life and responsibilities of 16 year olds and experiences of smoking, drinking, drug use and sexual intercourse later in the year.

For more information on Young Life and Times please visit www.ark.ac.uk/ylt

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