you're reading...
Science, The Mind

Kid’s Behaviour is much worse than it used to be – Discuss!

UntitledOk class, now quieten down. Bryony – how many times do I have to tell you? Mobile phones away! Today we are going to be looking at an important topic: Childhood behaviour. In a moment, we’re going to try to get a serious answer to a controversial question. Oh Jimmy, please put that cigarette lighter away – I don’t think Becky appreciates her hair being set alight.

First, let me have a show of hands – how many of you think that school discipline and behaviour is getting worse? Now that’s interesting…


My Playground Misdemeanours

Is Your Child a Tagger?I used to be a bit of brat. At primary school, I was notorious for getting into fights: older kids would bait me to see how hard the ‘new boy’ could really punch. More often than not, I would gladly oblige. Then came discovering swear words. This proved an exciting game for a ten year old – how loudly you could shout a profanity before getting told off? (Sorry Mum).

When I started teaching a couple of years ago I dreaded the prospect of having to keep rowdy teenagers in check. Harrowing stories abounded: hormonal adolescents throwing tantrums and knife-wielding yobs looking for a adult-shaped victim. And that was even before I heard my colleague’s horror stories.

My reality was far less frightening. I largely failed to see these ‘juvenile delinquents’ materialise. Accepted, my students are a somewhat ‘cherry-picked’ cohort striving for medical and nursing degrees. Student misbehaviour is common, but nothing like the ‘howling, undisciplined’ youths as described in the sensationalist press. To me, they were pretty similar to how I remember my pubescent stage. And yet, the consistent consensus amongst many is that students are becoming increasingly unruly.

Clearly not everything adds up…

Declining Classroom Discipline: The evidence


Many teachers say student behaviour is falling. But Where is the Evidence to support this?

“Collapse of the classrooms as hooligans win power struggle” is the typical tabloid portrayal of education (that one is courtesy of the ever trustworthy Daily Mail). The finger of blame points firmly at the evils of technology, poor parenting and declining moral standards.

It would appear that the majority of teachers also think classroom standards are on the way down. 92 per cent of teachers who completed an online survey last year said that pupil behaviour had gotten worse over their career – to the point that 70 per cent are consider quitting the profession completely.

Shocking stuff, but is there other evidence to support this view?

Parents certainly don’t agree: More than 85% of parents in the UK believe that behaviour in their own child’s school is good or better. School inspectors, Ofsted have failed to report any decline in student behaviour in the many years they have been scrutinising British schools.

Under government instruction, Sir Alan Steer undertook a comprehensive report in 2008, examining ways to improve school behaviour. His summary was contrary to what many expected, pronouncing that the “great majority of pupils work hard and behave well … It is often the case that for pupils, school is a calm place in a disorderly world”.

Reports for other parts of the world show a similar picture: No clear decline in school discipline has been observed in the USA, Finland or Holland.

What’s going wrong?

SJSA Fourth Grade - The Longest Year in My Life!

Children always used to be well behaved. Didn't they?

Something has to be wrong here. Why is there a disconnect between teacher’s beliefs and those of everyone else (excluding tabloid newspapers)? My personal experiences have been largely positive but I would not be naive enough to suggest my experiences are representative of many areas of education. (Ok, so there was one rather explosive Bunsen burner ‘incident’ last year)…

Are students and teaching establishments so hiding the true reality and distorting the findings of inspections? Are the parents who deceiving themselves into thinking their offspring are angelic ‘little cherubs’? Do teachers read the Daily Mail?

Memory can deceive. Professional teachers and lecturers may be falling victim to ‘Rosy retrospection’ – a tendency for all of us to remember the past better than it actually was. Technology and culture evolves and every generation faces new challenges – but in all sobriety, I can’t say I recall my behaviour as a youngster being any different to a typical 21st Century child.

Give me a few more years in this job though, and I may be saying something quite different…


Got an opinion? Think I’ve missed something? Please feel free to share your thoughts and comment below…



Selected References:

Steer, A (2009). A review of behaviour standards
and practices in our schools Learning Behaviour: Lessons Leaned

Achenbach, T., Dumenci, L., & Rescorla, L. (2003). Are American Children’s Problems Still Getting Worse? A 23-Year Comparison Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology, 31 (1), 1-11 DOI: 10.1023/A:1021700430364

Verhulst, F., Ende, J., & Rietbergen, A. (1997). Ten-year time trends of psychopathology in Dutch children and adolescents: no evidence for strong trends Acta Psychiatrica Scandinavica, 96 (1), 7-13 DOI: 10.1111/j.1600-0447.1997.tb09898.x

Mitchell, T. (1997). Temporal Adjustments in the Evaluation of Events: The “Rosy View”, , Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 33 (4), 421-448 DOI: 10.1006/jesp.1997.1333

Harris, S. (2004) Collapse of the classrooms as hooligans win power struggle, Daily Mail, 3rd February, p.19.

About Stuart Farrimond

I love writing about science and health subjects. Strange, because I also teach the same things. I trained as a medical doctor before turning my hand to other things. Shortlisted for The Guardian/Observer for Science Writer of the Year 2011 and editor for Guru Magazine I also like to grow large pumpkins...


5 thoughts on “Kid’s Behaviour is much worse than it used to be – Discuss!

  1. Looking back to the 1950’s I think what has changed is that children were more likely to avoid adults noticing their “misbehaviour” because adults were likely to inflict quite severe reprisals. In South London where I lived you would often hear adults shout the traditional cry of “Gerrrrrrdoutofit” to children , followed by threats of a “thick ear”. Children would then stop what they were doing ( temporarily) and run away. ( children did not spend much time indoors in those days, being actively encouraged to roam the streets)
    I don’t say this was a good state of afairs at all but it did give adults the sense that things were under their control – which is a comfortable feeling for them .
    I think that what has changed is what is expected of the teaching profession.
    Teachers were allowed ( even expected to ) control children by beating, shouting or sarcasm.
    “Childhood” ended earlier – so people who hated school could escape at 14 or 16.
    There was an expectation that only some children would get qualifications.
    Bullying was often seen as unavoidable and there was no anti discrimination legislation.
    Big changes in what teachers have to do – Smaller classes would help – ( unless you are a fan of the beating option of course)

    Posted by Ruth Behan | July 26, 2011, 10:24 am
  2. I read a very very interesting article on a similar topic: http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/print/2011/07/how-to-land-your-kid-in-therapy/8555/

    I think, mostly, (coming from a non-parent who has worked with children from infancy to teen years for a decade), behavior is most directly a result of parenting. And I think, sadly, that a lot of parenting these days is largely “hands-off.” We have the advent of all these technologies that keep kids occupied, sedated really, and parents are less often required to discipline or teach their children actual values in life. And I think it seems that often when values are taught, they’re drastically different than what many of us consider the important things in life (due to the advent of phenomena like fame-whoring celebrities, etc).

    And a lot of it, I must say, (and this is observation from years of experience), is that parents are just generally softer these days. “Self-esteem” has become such a hot-button topic that it’s almost unacceptable to say to your child “Actually, honey, sports are not your strong suit. But you have other strengths!” when sometimes that’s just the truth! I think this sort of stigma results in a lot of self-entitled, somewhat narcissistic children who grow up to be perpetual adolescents (in demeanor).

    Posted by Jackie | September 1, 2011, 12:48 am
    • Hi Jackie – A brilliant (and fascinating) article.
      Brave comments – and I applaud you for speaking your mind on this, an extremely contentious and sensitive issue.
      Reading your comments and the article you linked, it reminded me of a brilliant lecture I attended since I have been in education. The speaker (his name escapes me) gave a very convincing argument that children and young people must learn to develop resilience. The only way they can learn this is to overcome difficulties, hardships and adversities on their own. Clearly this is not to abandon a child / young person – but to let them solve problems and issues on their own – and only step in as a last resort.
      More of a ‘tough love’ attitude, I think.
      Thanks for commenting 🙂

      Posted by Stuart Farrimond | September 7, 2011, 3:01 pm
  3. I think it all started, when the government told us:”You can’t spank your kids”…now they make parent’s responsible, if kids misbehave…I don’t get it…I’m not talking of beating your kids, but an occasional spanking….come on!!!

    Posted by chris hanson | February 22, 2012, 11:52 pm

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Buy My Book!

About Dr Stu

Hospital doctor turned lecturer and science communicator, I love trying to answer life's questions - whether it is how our body works or the best way to dunk a biscuit.... Read more...

See Dr Stu's LinkedIn Profile Follow realdoctorstu on Twitter

Click to subscribe to Dr Stu's blog and receive notifications of new posts by email (and zero spam).

Join 1,116 other followers

Brag Tags

SPARKies finalist
Wellcome Trust 2011

My site was nominated for Best Education Blog!


Latest Tweets (@realdoctorstu)

Got a Question?

. Get it Answered Here!
See the website terms and conditions here.
%d bloggers like this: