TRENDS IN YOUTH BEHAVIOUR
Porn, teen sex and gambling on the rise
But there's less smoking and drinking, recent surveys find
Young children and teenagers drink and smoke less but are more occupied in viewing pornography and gambling than a year ago, according to the latest research.
The Child Watch 2005-2006 study, sponsored by the Thailand Research Fund (TRF), conducted on primary, high school and teenaged university students, also found fewer suicide attempts and more students continuing on to higher education.
The respondents also reported skipping classes less as well as taking fewer part-time jobs.
Compared to the previous annual study, pornographic media consumption, gambling, premature sex and teen pregnancies all increased among high-school and university students, Child Watch's research chief Amornwich Nakornthap said last week.
Besides these risks, other research projects conducted by the Health Systems Research Institute (HSRI) and National Health Foundation (NHF) show that more youths are addicted to junk food - and more are experiencing direct and indirect forms of school violence.
Amornwich said the viewing of porn on VCD, DVD, video and websites among high-school students had risen from 39 per cent to 41 per cent of the respondents.
For teen university students, the incidence has risen from 30 per cent to 33 per cent.
As for gambling, mainly on soccer and lotteries, the incidence among high-school students has risen from 17 per cent to 33 per cent while the figure for university students is 24 per cent in 2006, up from 20 per cent the previous year.
Primary-school students and teens are spending up to six or seven hours a day engrossed in their mobile phones, TVs, computers and other electronic gadgets.
The breakdown shows that on average they spend one hour daily chatting on the phone, another hour on the Net and e-mail, two hours listening to music from MP3 and CD players and watching movies on CDs and VCDs, and the rest playing computer games.
Some of the media content tends to be sexually oriented and violent. For example, films and TV soap operas often carry implicit sexual and violent messages.
"About 30 per cent of the children surveyed said they were into porn, while about 70 per cent said they enjoyed watching violent films," Amornwich said.
Sombat Tapanya, who led a separate NHF investigation of violence in schools, said 68.6 per cent of students from the fourth to ninth grades nationwide faced more abuse directly or indirectly while they are at school.
Violence comes in the form of physical, verbal and mental threats from schoolmates or seniors or their teachers.
"The most common form is mocking and insulting the students' ethnic background, which could lead to further violence among the youngsters," Sombat said.
Even nursery students are targets, with new risks stemming from dairy and other food companies as well as pharmaceutical firms and those supplying child development products.
"Misleading information leads to unnecessary consumption or over-consumption of some products, which could harm children's health in the long run," said Ladda Moasuwan, who led another study sponsored by the HSRI.
Most parents believe nurseries are safe places for kids, so they readily follow suggestions from these places, she said.
Apinya Vejjayachai, a TRF researcher, said authorities needed to take more action against the worrying trends among young children and teenagers.
For instance, the Information and Communications Technology Ministry recently shut down 15,000 porn and improper sex-related websites, while asking the public to help monitor inappropriate pages on the Net.
The Interior Ministry's Community Development Department recently started a specific database on children and youths - the country's first - in a pilot project implemented in conjunction with the United Nations Children's Fund.