information on Vanier Institute on the Family report:

The Rise in the Number of Children and Adolescents who Exhibit Problematic Behaviours: Multiple Causes

News release: More Supervision, Less TV: A Prescription for Fewer Problem Children and Youth

Report: The Rise in the Number of Children and Adolescents who Exhibit Problematic Behaviors: Multiple Causes

Youth behaviour getting worse, study finds

Societal shifts such as lack of role models to blame for 'erosion of civility,' author says

February 21, 2021
Globe and Mail
By Unnati Gandhi

There has been a dramatic increase of children and teenagers with behavioural problems in Canada in the past 30 years, a report by an internationally respected institute on family says.

As many as one in five young people are now demonstrating severe problematic behaviour -- acts that intentionally hurt others, such as being disruptive, aggressive or delinquent -- up from about one in 20 three decades ago, Anne-Marie Ambert, the lead author of the Vanier Institute of the Family study told The Globe and Mail yesterday. At some schools and in certain neighbourhoods, that ratio can be as high as one in every two young people.

In her review of hundreds of Canadian and U.S. studies that looked at various causes of this "disturbing shift in behaviour," the professor emeritus of sociology at York University blames the evolution of an environment that essentially acts as a breeding ground for the development of problem behaviour.

She notes that, compared to the 1970s:

Parents are now working longer hours and are less available to monitor and engage in their children's lives;

Schools and neighbourhoods are no longer offering the strong community and social control they once did;

There is less emphasis on religion in the home and in society as a whole;

There is a rise in the number of single-parent homes, especially those living in poverty;

Youth are now spending unparalleled amounts of time accessing media, through television, music videos, the Internet and video games.

"We have seen a certain erosion of civility," Prof. Ambert said in an interview yesterday. "We're far more permissive than we used to be, there are far more options presented to children, and there's far less structure to society in general. So, of course, you're going to have this reflected in the family and in the school system."

She highlighted pop star Britney Spears's recent behaviour -- drunken partying, not wearing underwear in public and, most recently, shaving her head and getting tattoos -- as an example of the type of role model to which children are turning.

"You look at what's happening to this girl. And then look at little girls [today]. Some people have called it the whoring of little girls. They can be dressed like little sluts and nobody says anything. Parents can't say anything to their children, because that's all they see in the stores. They don't like it, but they buy it."

Girls have also increasingly become more likely to engage in physically aggressive behaviour.

In Canada, the rate of violent delinquency for girls more than doubled from 1990 to 1999.

"Girls tend to aggress other girls, often to compete with them for boys," Prof. Ambert wrote in the report, part of an occasional series titled "Contemporary Family Trends."

In a 13-year study conducted between 1976 and 1989, yearly samples of parents and teachers increasingly reported that children destroyed things belonging to others, lied, stole, and hung around with others who got into trouble. Peer and teacher victimization has also become more frequent in the 2000s, she reports.

Rhonda Kimberley-Young, president of the Ontario Secondary School Teachers' Federation, said it was teachers' perceptions that students were demonstrating increasingly aggressive behaviour that led to the 2005 study finding that four in 10 Ontario teachers have been bullied by their students.

"Young people certainly can intimidate people in authority, whether it's people in a classroom, or a secretary, or even a custodian that's alone in the building," she said yesterday.

"It's increasingly a concern, because it affects how they're able to professionally do their job."

Alan Mirabelli, executive associate of the Vanier Institute of the Family, said the findings are significant because they finally move away from the traditional tendency to lay blame on the children themselves.

"It really shows us that all of our behaviours collectively influence the outcomes that children experience."