We need your help now

Support from readers like you keeps The Journal open.

You are visiting us because we have something you value. Independent, unbiased news that tells the truth. Advertising revenue goes some way to support our mission, but this year it has not been enough.

If you've seen value in our reporting, please contribute what you can, so we can continue to produce accurate and meaningful journalism. For everyone who needs it.

Alamy Stock Photo

Ireland's 13-year-olds have fewer friends but better familial relationships than a decade ago

The findings were made as part of the latest ‘Growing Up in Ireland’ report.

THIRTEEN-YEAR-OLDS have better relationships with their parents, but fewer friends than they did a decade ago, according to a report released by the ESRI this morning.

The report, titled ‘The Changing Social Worlds of 13-year-olds’, examines how the lives of 13-year-olds have changed over the last decade in terms of their relationships with family and friends, day-to-day activities, and their school experiences.

The report draws on data from the Growing Up in Ireland study, and compares 13-year-olds from 2011 to 2012 to those in 2021 and 22.

The report found that 53% of young people surveyed have three close friends or fewer, compared to 41% ten years previously. 

There was a 5% increase in the number of young people who had a weekly involvement in organised sports, from 65% to 70%, but reading levels are low.

Less than half (48%) of boys from working class or jobless households said that they read less than once a week, or never. 

There was a shift away from traditional media, such as TV, towards screen time on a phone or another device.

Junior cycle reform is reported to have been taken well, as improved levels of interest in English, maths, and science were noted. Only 24% of girls surveyed said that they liked school, down from 35% in the previous survey.

Author of the report, Dr Emer Smyth, said the findings of improved quality of relationships between young people and their parents were “encouraging”, but financial pressures continue to be a source of friction within families. 

“Young people from more disadvantaged backgrounds are less likely to take part in the kinds of out-of-school activities (like hard exercise and cultural engagement) that enhance their development, highlighting the need for subsidised activities in communities and supports for schools to provide access to a range of extracurricular options.”

Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Inclusion and Youth, Roderic O’Gorman said that he welcomed the report.

“I hope that this report will inform policy making across government on areas such as highlighting the importance of physical exercise in young people, the effects of the pandemic restrictions as well as the impact of screen time on their psycho-social development,” he said.

Relationships with family and friends

The report found that a decline in mother-child conflict was greater than could have been expected given the changing of young people’s profile. Father-child conflict levels were even lower.

The report also reveals that levels of conflict were higher in lone-parent families, as well as those living in rented accommodation and urban areas.

Conflict was reportedly lower in the case of families in which the young person had three or more siblings. Financial strain is associated with much higher levels of conflict between the child and their parents.

In discussing their behaviour, parents are more likely to explain what the young person has done wrong (63% compared with 49% always doing so) and much less likely to use punitive approaches like grounding (69% compared with 59% never doing so) or shouting at the young person (41% compared with 28% never doing so).

In terms of friendships, there was a significant drop in those who have large friend groups – defined as groups of six or more – going from 55% to 38%. Overall, girls have smaller peer groups than boys. 

Mothers are more likely to report that 13-year-olds have problems interacting with their peers, the survey found.

Day-to-day activities

The findings showed a reduction in the number of 13-year-olds who have very low levels of engagement in exercise, and an increase in weekly involvement in organised sports.

Cultural activities, such as drama and dance, retained their level of engagement.

Over a third of young people are said to be involved in these activities. Media forms such as TV were recorded less, while screen time on phones was preferred.

The report found that high levels of screen time is generally associated with less involvement in sport and cultural activities.

In school, there were improved levels of interest across English, maths, and science. Interest in English went from 44% to 51%, maths from 32% to 42%, and science from 60% to 68%.

The report notes this change as a reflection of the reformed junior cycle, as well as a change in approaches to teaching and learning at both primary and secondary school.

The findings of the report show that gendered attitudes to school subjects are evident.

Girls were found to be more positive about language-based subjects while boys were more positive about maths and science.

The findings regarding financial strain affecting parent-child relationships reinforces “the need to target adequate levels of income support towards families with children to reduce the need to target levels of income support towards families with children to reduce conflict and improve wellbeing”, the ESRI stated. 

It also noted that as young people from disadvantaged backgrounds were less likely to take part in out-of-school activities, including sport, hard exercise, cultural engagement and reading, this was likely to contribute to an “ongoing social gap in cognitive and physical outcomes among adolescents”.

Readers like you are keeping these stories free for everyone...
A mix of advertising and supporting contributions helps keep paywalls away from valuable information like this article. Over 5,000 readers like you have already stepped up and support us with a monthly payment or a once-off donation.

Your Voice
Readers Comments
This is YOUR comments community. Stay civil, stay constructive, stay on topic. Please familiarise yourself with our comments policy here before taking part.
Leave a Comment
    Submit a report
    Please help us understand how this comment violates our community guidelines.
    Thank you for the feedback
    Your feedback has been sent to our team for review.

    Leave a commentcancel