Tuesday, 28 July 2015

What we think

The following blog post was written by Roman and Vato, both 15 years old, during their time spent with the HBSC England team for work experience. After studying HBSC England data they have provided an insightful account of adolescent life in order to interpret the findings. 

As students on work experience, we were given the chance to look at some data in order to interpret it; giving our own opinions on what that data could mean and why. Since adolescents are often tokenised and not really taken seriously, we were relieved when we actually had the chance to express ourselves.

Our main concern was the fact that so much adult attention was focused on the usage of risk behaviours in our age group. The media and even those in power seem to think that adolescents are all potheads that have replaced their blood with alcohol and their brains with nicotine. Safe to say, this is not actually true, and anyone who happens to believe this may want to contact their local GP. In any case, the risk behaviours were never truly significant anyway. They are simply a way for adolescents to entertain themselves and even escape reality, despite being extremely detrimental to one’s health. But honestly young people have learned this already.

With the education system constantly churning out new ways to teach both adolescents and children about the risk behaviours, our generation is more cautious about these dangers. Due to the past high levels of substance consumption, risk behaviours have almost become social norms and so they are not seen as “cool” anymore, which has led to the rates of consumption decreasing. From looking at the data, we theorised that the consumption of risk behaviours could be fluctuating. If this were the case, it might be that in a few years, the rates of consumption could increase yet again.

Honestly though, there is little point in focusing on risk behaviours. They are not the causes of adolescent problems, they are the effects. Teenagers turn to drugs when they are depressed. They smoke when they are lonely. They drink when they are stressed. Just a few examples of reality that should have been obvious. Substance usage happens because of a large variety of different internal problems, and while it could be that educating adolescents on substances is helpful, the focus should not be on the usage, it should be on why they are used, and what one could do instead. And even better, there should be so much more attention paid to the fact that Internal Problems Are Real.

When the government expects us to learn and develop at school, what they don’t realise is that they have given us three options:
  1. Good Grades                       
  2. Good Health                          
  3. A Social Life
And told us we can choose two.

With the current education system, adolescents are usually left almost completely busy with school work, meaning they barely have time for the activities they need to actually develop as human beings.

Let’s calculate it shall we?

6 hours of school per day, and for healthy living young people require 9-11 hours of sleep. Now we aren’t unfair, so we’ll go with 10. 6+10 = 16. This leaves 8 hours awake at home. Now maybe homework is not so intensive before GCSE’s, but it still eats quite a large amount of time, and when GCSE’s come into the picture, homework can take up to 5 hours per day. The government also recommends 1 hour of physical activity per day.

So. For an adolescent doing GCSE’s to be healthy and do work, they are left with 2-3 hours to eat, socialise, rest, pursue their interests, deal with the problems of puberty, connect with their family, deal with various drama and friendships, develop as humans, find out who they are beyond schoolwork, learn about the news of the world which will definitely concern them later on, think about life and what they want to do in the future, and actually live as nature intended.

2 hours. To do that. What the hell is wrong with you? (This is not to say all teenagers are left with 2 hours to live, it is simply a base picture. This can and does happen quite a bit.) In all seriousness, there is little wonder that adolescents are faced with so many internal struggles; stress, anxiety, depression. Not helpful when society and medial interaction states that they should be perfect or they won’t be loved. Not helpful when school rules dictate that if you forget a sock in P.E you will be faced with an after-school detention (I am not joking with you; this is actually what happens to us).

And beyond that, young people face the challenge of trying to communicate their problems to adults who don’t realise that even if their past seemed easy for them, it does not mean that now is easy for us. Some of them don’t even believe in mental health problems just because they can’t see them. Depression doesn’t leave bruises, but it still harms us. It still exists.

There are thousands of ways we could conclude this, talking about stereotype, empathy, the government. Michael Gove. But all we can truly do is give you what we have written. Take from it what you will.

Thank you for reading.

Roman and Vato.

Thursday, 16 July 2015

Video gaming: it's all about moderation!

We have recently published an article in the Journal of Youth Studies entitled “Video gaming in adolescence: factors associated with leisure time use1.

Since video games first emerged in the 1970’s, with the likes of Pong and Space Invaders, the video game industry has become a significant sector of the economy; in the UK alone 1.4 million copies of Call of Duty Black Ops™ were bought on the games launch day2. Video games are now a regular feature of adolescent leisure time, with a recent UK based study suggesting 3 out of 4 young people play video games on a daily basis3. Technological developments have resulted in the gaming experiencing becoming increasingly more versatile; with the ability to play online with friends, interact physically with games and access games through mobile apps.

Traditionally much research has focused on the negative effects of playing video games. Studies have suggested video game play is associated with poorer mental health4 and impaired academic achievement5. In particular there is considerable debate around the implications of playing violent video games, with research suggesting that violent video game playing may be linked to an increase in aggressive behaviours6. More recently, research has begun to address the positive aspects of video gaming including improved social skills and problem solving7. Przybylski (2014) suggested a more nuanced understanding of gaming compared with the traditional dichotomous good vs bad divide; young people who played games for up to 1 hour a day demonstrated more positive outcomes than those who didn’t play at all, while the opposite was true for those who played for more than 3 hours a day.

Considering the potential negative outcomes of video game play, many countries and associations have issued recommended guidelines. In the UK, the Public Health Outcomes Framework9 is concerned with the negative impact of game play beyond moderate leisure time use, and as such is committed to monitoring levels of game play exceeding 2 hours or more. 

Data from the 2010 Health Behaviour in School-aged Children (HBSC) study in England10 identified  20% of girls and 55% of boys were playing video games for two or more hours on weekdays. Figure 1 (summarising HBSC England 2010 data) shows boys are more likely than girls to report playing video games for 2 or more hours a day during the week across all ages. Compared with data from the HBSC England 2006 survey, the proportion of both boys and girls who reported playing for more than two hours had significantly increased.

Our paper identified associations between young peoples’ video gaming levels and their social environment as well as their health and wellbeing. In line with previous work3, our research suggests video gaming is not intrinsically positive or negative. For boys, being in the middle category for game play was associated with having more friends of the opposite sex than those in the lowest category; and for girls it was associated with engaging in more family activities. In contrast, the highest levels of video gaming were found to be associated with negative aspects for both boys and girls. In particular, boys who reported playing video games for more than 4 hours a day during the week were more likely to report going to bed hungry, bullying others and being bullied.

The analysis demonstrates the important role parents play in structuring and regulating levels of video gaming among young people. Young people who reported their parents had a say in deciding how they spent their free time were less likely to play video games at the higher levels compared with those who had no parental input. However we found an interesting relationship between level of parental control and video gaming which supports the “boomerang effect” where young people with strictest parental mediation actually played video games more frequently!

For a more thorough discussion of this research you can access the published paper by clicking here.    

By clicking here, you can also read a guest blog post written by Sam and Tom (both aged 15) to find out what young people themselves think about video games.


  1. Brooks, F.M., Chester, K.L., Smeeton, N.C. & Spencer, N. (2015). Video gaming in adolescence: factors associated with leisure time use. Journal of Youth Studies, DOI: 10.1080/13676261.2015.1048200
  2. Dring, C. (2010). Black Ops smashes UK day 1 record. Retrieved 18th March 2015, from http://www.mcvuk.com/news/read/black-ops-smashes-uk-day-1-record
  3. Przybylski, A.K. (2014). Electronic gaming and psychosocial adjustment. Pediatrics, 134(3), 1-7.
  4. Page, A.S., Cooper, A.R., Griew, P. & Jago, R. (2010). Children's screen viewing is related to psychological difficultiesirrespective of physical activityPediatrics, 126(5), e1011-e1017.
  5. Jaruratanasirikul, S., Wongwaitaweewong, K. & Sangsupawanich, P. (2009). Electronic game play and school performance of adolescents in southern Thailand. CyberPsychology & Behavior, 12(5), 509-512. 
  6. Gentile, D.A., Lynch, P.J., Linder, J.R. & Walsh, D.A. (2004). The effects of violent video game habits on adolescent hostility, aggressive behaviors, and school performance. Journal of Adolescence, 27(1), 5-22.
  7. Adachi, P.J.C. & Willoughby, T. (2013). More than just fun and games: the longitudinal relationships between strategic videogames, self-reported problem solving skills, and academic grades. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 42(7), 1041-1052.
  8. Department of Health. (2012). Report of the Children and Young Person’s Health Outcomes Forum. Retrieved 18th March 2015, from https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/216852/CYP-report.pdf
  9. Brooks, F., Magnusson, J., Klemera, E., Spencer, N. & Morgan, A. (2011). HBSC England National Report. Findings from the2010 HBSC study for England. Hatfield: University of Hertfordshire.

Wednesday, 1 July 2015

The guest of our blog Dr Wendy Wills asks an interesting question!


Research conducted by the University of Hertfordshire suggests many young people at secondary school buy food and drink from shops close to their school, rather than in the school cafeteria. This is for several reasons, including that local shops are friendly and don’t mind young people hanging out with their friends there; they provide cheap food and drink that appeals to young people and also that local shops are nicer places to spend the lunch break, compared with schools.

We are making a film to highlight these research findings and we need YOUNG PEOPLE  to help us decide on a title for the film!

Some suggestions so far are:
Bargaining Chips: Why Young People Buy Food and Drink Outside School
Fry Days: Why Young People Buy Food and Drink Outside School
Come Fry with Me: Why Young People Buy Food and Drink Outside School

Do you have other suggestions? Please let us know! The deadline is the end of July.