Summary:This psychosocial oriented research aims to analyse the pattern of risk behaviour among youngsters during leisure time, the perception of risk and the reasons given by young people themselves for such behaviour. It is based on an international survey conducted in five European metropolitan areas: Madrid, Barcelona, Amsterdam, Genoa and Oporto. The final purpose was to identify the psychological and social factors which favour or hinder the occurrence of such patterns of risk behaviour. The risk behaviours explored are: dangerous driving, alcohol consumption, drugs consumption, risky sexual behaviour, carrying arms, vandalistic behaviour and violent confrontations. The comparative survey results have shown that there are significant differences in sets of variables, between youngsters who engage in risk behaviour and those who do not, furthermore such differences are diverse in each social context (e.g., in each geographical area).
Ferran Casas is senior lecturer in Social Psychology and the Director of the new Research Institute on Quality of Life in the University of Girona. He is the Catalan Interdisciplinary Network of Researchers on Children's Rights and Quality of Life. He was the first President of the Advisory Board of Childwatch International until 1996, and at present he is still a member of the Board. He is involved in the editorial board of 7 scientific journals, and he is the author of several books and articles in different languages.
Antonio Martin (Spain), Joaquim Armando Ferreira (Portugal), Martina Campart (Italy), Peter H. Kwakkelstein.Van Dijk (The Netherlands)
Updates in this section
This psychosocial oriented research aims to analyse the pattern of risk behaviour among youngsters during leisure time, the perception of risk and the reasons given by young people themselves for such behaviour. It is based on an international survey conducted in five European metropolitan areas: Madrid, Barcelona, Amsterdam, Genoa and Porto. The final purpose has been to identify the psychological and social factors which favour or hinder the occurrence of such patterns of risk behaviour. The risk behaviours explored are: dangerous driving, alcohol consumption, drugs consumption, risky sexual behaviour, carrying arms, vandalistic behaviour and violent confrontations.
The results obtained from this research are not from sociologically representative samples, so they cannot be generalised to the entire populations. The main goal has been focused on finding out statistically significant relations between variables, in order to know characteristic psychosocial patterns that are present when risky patterns of behaviour take place, in comparison with the groups of youngsters who do not behave in this way.
Methodology and methods
In order to tackle the issue of youngsters' risk behaviour in leisure time, the research started with a qualitative approach, focusing on the subjective perspective and personal explanations of the individuals involved, in order to develop a questionnaire including the most relevant aspects identified in this first stage. The second stage was based on a quantitative, correlator design, by gathering data with the adopted questionnaire in the 5 sampling areas. The results of administering this questionnaire have made possible the analysis of statistical relationships among variables.
The qualitative study was developed in the area of the Autonomous Community of Madrid. It was based on 26 discussion groups of 10 individuals.
The groups were organised dividing the territory in 3 major areas: the capital (intensive urban area), suburban (semi-urban), and rural. The youngsters were organised in discussion groups of two different age groups: 15-18 and 19-24. In every group there were 8 to 10 youngsters, both boys and girls. According to a previously elaborated guide, the discussion groups were invited to speak about patterns of risk behaviour, reasons for acting in this way, aspects in life that may influence such behaviour (family, school, friends, media), perceived consequences and proposed solutions. Participants were guaranteed they will remain anonymous. Discussions were taped. The information collected was basic to design the questionnaire. The questionnaire is defined as a psychosocial ad-hoc questionnaire partially based on previous tested psychometric scales. It has been applied to all sampled subjects, in each specific language (including a Catalan version for the Barcelona sample).
The psychometric scales adopted have been:
Self-Esteem Inventory (SEI), Coopersmith (1967), abridged version by Argyle & Lee (1972), composed of 25 items.
Family Environment Scale, Moos & Tricket (1974): using two sub-scales of the R ("Real") version of the scale: these measuring cohesion and conflict.
The Social Support Appraisals Scale (SS-A), Vaux et al. (1986): This scale allows to calculate a general index of social support.
Mastery Scale, Pearlyn & Schooler (1978).
The four main patterns of risk behaviour which have been explored are: rash driving, drug abuse (alcohol, cocaine, design drugs and hallucinogens), risky sexual behaviour, and aggressive-violent behaviour (vandalism, carrying arms, and violent confrontations). Operational concepts for each pattern of risk behaviour have been defined. The questionnaire collected information on: socio-demographical characteristics; characteristics of leisure time; risk perceptions; ideologies, values and religion; self-esteem and mastery; social support; well-being; satisfaction with academic experience; satisfaction with work; affective situation; family relations; and peers.
The samples were designed so that each one included 15-24 years old youngsters from 3 deprived areas, 2 lower-middle class areas, 2 medium areas and 1 affluent area. All together, a total sample of 2,361 youngsters (1126 boys and 1230 girls) was obtained in the six metropolitan areas (507 in Madrid, 344 in Barcelona, 233 in Amsterdam, 266 in Genoa and 1,011 in Porto). Six risky patterns of behaviour have obtained big enough subsamples in order to study relations between each risky pattern of behaviour and different psychosocial variables, in the different social contexts of each city and its surroundings: risky driving, alcohol consumption, drug consumption, vandalistic behaviour and violent confrontations. About one of the risky patterns of behaviour, carrying arms, only data from two samples have been obtained: Barcelona and Genoa. About another of the patterns of behaviour, risky sexual behaviour, two of the subsamples were too small (Barcelona and Amsterdam), so results cannot be considered reliable enough for these two geographical areas.
Main research results
After a global analysis of the five samples, the comparative survey results have shown that there are significant differences in sets of variables, between youngsters who engage in risk behaviour and those who do not, furthermore such differences are diverse in each social context (e.g., in each geographical area).
Nevertheless, some general patterns in the kind of variables that differ in each pattern of risk behaviour have identified, and the researchers have also identified some common characteristics in situations where different risky patterns of behaviour appear associated.
First of all, it seems clear that, in all samples, a large cluster of youngsters have pretty good relationships with their family, and they feel well integrated into the family dynamics. This cluster usually perceives high family cohesion, low family conflict and high social support from family. It is only very seldom that youngsters belonging to this cluster are acting in a risky way, but some clarification is necessary:
First, in this cluster both non-alcohol consumers and occasional or low alcohol consumers can be found; probably because low alcohol consumption is socially well accepted in the countries where we have collected samples. It appears that low levels of alcohol consumption are not related to any family conflict perception, nor is it usually associated with any other risky pattern of behaviour.
Those youngsters with risky sexual behaviour and those not do not seem to differ in any of their perceptions about family, using the validated psychometric scales integrated into the questionnaire. This means that this pattern of risk behaviour has very different characteristics, compared to the other patterns of risk behaviour studied. It appears that a small group of youngsters in this cluster may have occasional violent confrontations with other groups.
A second cluster of youngsters, which have been identified in all samples, is perceiving lower family cohesion and/or higher family conflict than the mean. This cluster is composed much more frequently of youngsters with one or more than one pattern of risk behaviour, including moderate to high alcohol consumption.
Finally, in each sample there is a small cluster of youngsters who are pluri-risky behaving. In this cluster there are many more violent and vandalistic youngsters than in the former cluster, even if vandalistic behaviour and violent confrontations are not very often associated. Although in this cluster moderate to high alcohol consumers can be found, alcohol consumption is not characteristic of the cluster, because it is composed as well of non-alcohol consumers and low alcohol consumers.
It can be concluded that variables related to family perceptions are important factors in the appearance of different patterns of risk behaviour.
In fact, the different scales to measure social support, and particularly the general social support, have shown significant differences between some risky and non-risky patterns of behaviour (regular alcohol consumption, drug consumption and violent confrontations) in some of the samples, but not in others. The researchers have observed that for some youngsters with risky behaviour, it often happens that the perception of family support is "substituted" by the perception of being supported by friends.
Another theoretical construct that has demonstrated a range of significant differences among the youngsters with risky behaviour and those not, is psychological well-being. This phenomenon has been explored with a broad set of variables: satisfaction with school and with academic experience, with work/job, and with other dimensions of personal life; optimism with life; life satisfaction; and other related topics. Researchers could not use a validated scale, as in the case of family perception or social support, thus the significant differences that have appeared in each sample were complex to explain synthetically and subsamples of each pattern of risk behaviour were too small to explore more in depth the different responses to each item. However, dissatisfaction with different aspects of school/academic experience appears clearly to be higher among many youngsters with risky behaviour.
Among youngsters behaving vandalistically or violently in confrontations, clear different patterns of answer in relation to life optimism (how things go in the present, in contrast with how they went in the past, and how they are expected to go in the next future) have been identified, those with risky behaviour being clearly more pessimistic.
A large amount of leisure time available on weekdays, but also at week-ends, also appears as a factor that may facilitate risk behaviour.
Variables related to self-esteem and mastery, which have been measured with psychometric scales, have shown they relate to some patterns of risk behaviour, as expected -on the basis of previous research-, but only in some samples, and not in others.
The youngest group of youngsters in each sample (under 18), in some cities, appear to behave more frequently vandalistically or in violent confrontations; however, such difference does not appear in all samples.
Girls are less often taking part in violent confrontations, carrying arms or behaving vandalistically in all samples, but in all the other patterns of risk behaviour, gender only appears to differ significantly in some samples and not in others.
Finally, other variables that occasionally differ significantly between those with risky behaviour and those not have found in only some of the samples: self-attributed social class, income, ideology, religion situation and religion importance, amongst others.
Why are some variables significantly related to some cities and their surroundings and not to others? In fact, we cannot be sure in an initial research; results may be influenced by sampling characteristics, by chance, by biases of the questionnaire (including different semantic meaning of the translations), by measuring errors or by a too small size of the subsamples. But the authors of this research tend to believe that the different socio-cultural macro-context that each large city represents is probably the most outstanding reason for such differences to appear.
Patterns of risk behaviour among youngsters in leisure time appear as a fuzzy cluster of factors: some general factors seem to be always or very often related to and influencing on risky patterns of behaviour, and many other factors seem to be significantly related only to specific social dynamics or contexts.
Risk taking, does not mean an intention of acting illegally. Many patterns of risk behaviour appear to be related to having too much leisure time available, to perceptions of lack of good relationship or communication in family life, and to dissatisfaction with different past or present activities. From this situation, youngsters seem to look for new ways of having social support (mainly from the group of friends) and to have a social, influential role (to be "somebody" in front of the others, to increase their own satisfaction in some way).
Main contribution to the objectives of the Yes for Europe Programme
In order to develop preventive social policies and proactive youth policies both family situation and the youngsters' points of view should be taken very much into account. In this research it has been observed that most youngsters, for example, consuming drugs, have a very clear idea of the risk of damaging their health, which means they are well informed, but they are not able to suffer the social pressure they have from friends.
Social policies should take into account that many risky behaving individuals or groups of youngsters need to be empowered in some direction and not to be stigmatised; they need to feel they have an influential role in a group or in a society, even if they act in a different way from their peer group. Satisfactory leisure time possibilities, which open networking possibilities in the neighbourhood, seem to be a good direction, specially if the youngsters themselves are involved in the design of new facilities.
On the other hand, it happens that some psychosocial factors are present in several different patterns of risk behaviour. Those patterns of risk behaviour that start when youngsters are very young should be given very special attention, by involving the school, the family and the youngsters themselves. Longitudinal studies of the activities of risky behaving youngsters at early ages, together with the evaluation of social intervention to change their situation, would be very helpful to better understand the way different psychosocial variables are involved and how to overcome such behaviour.
Developing responsibility in the socialisation process of the youngsters may be a key concept. But responsibility must be a key concept not only referred to the youngsters, but also to the family, and even to school and to society, in relation to the youngsters. School dissatisfaction and failure should be followed up in longitudinal researches to better know both personal (for youngsters) and social consequences.
The CIREM Foundation, Risk Behaviour of Youngsters associated to leisure. Retrieved March 9, 2005, from the World Wide Web <PDF> http://europa.eu.int/comm/youth/doc/studies/youthforeurope/cirem.pdf
CRN would like to thank The CIREM Foundation for permitting reproduction of " Risk Behaviour of Youngsters associated to leisure".
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