Growing Up in Ireland: Young teenagers less likely to smoke or drink than counterparts a decade ago

Mental health issues more likely to be issue for those born in 2008 than those born in 1998

Report finds almost one in ten of 13-year olds have tried vaping

Young teenagers are less likely to smoke or drink than their counterparts a decade ago but almost twice as likely to be “at risk” of depressive symptoms, with girls especially at risk, a landmark study published on Thursday finds.

The report, drawing on data from the longitudinal study Growing Up in Ireland (GUI) finds almost one in ten of 13-year olds have tried vaping, ten per cent had a boyfriend or girlfriend but fewer than half who had been bullied had told an adult.

Titled Key Findings from the Self-Complete Survey with Cohort ‘08 at 13, the study examines findings from a 6,000-strong cohort of 13-year olds born in 2008, comparing these with findings from a cohort born in 1998.

The GUI study has followed two groups of children, born roughly a decade apart. The families of cohort ‘08, the focus of this report, were first interviewed in 2008/2009, when the child was 9 months old. They have been reinterviewed, face-to-face, when the child was three years, five years, and nine years old. Due to the Covid pandemic planned in-home interviews at age 13 were replaced with remote surveys.


On mental health, researchers, used a tool to measure depressive symptoms called the ‘Short Mood and Feelings Questionnaire’ and found 31 per cent of 13-year olds born in 2008 were “at risk” of depression.

“In contrast ... just 16 per cent of cohort ‘98 were then flagged as ‘at risk’. This is suggestive of a substantial upwards trend in the experience of depressive symptoms, particularly for girls,” says the report.

Girls are more than twice (45 per cent) as likely to be “at risk” as boys (19 per cent), with a higher proportion also found in one-parent (42 per cent) households as in two-parent (29 per cent).

Among the 13 year-olds’ parents too, mothers were more likely (15 per cent) to be “at risk of depression” than fathers (seven per cent) and “mothers who were lone parents and/or were in the lowest income quintile” with “notably” more at risk than those in two-parent and better-off households.

Just under 10 per cent of 13-year-olds had been “bullied in the last three months”, about the same as the older cohort, with those from poorer backgrounds more likely to have been. The most common bullying experienced was being excluded or left out (34 per cent), followed by name-calling/hurtful slagging (33 per cent), and being pushed, shoved or slapped (30 per cent).

Growing up in Ireland inforgraphic

“Boys were more than twice as likely to say they did not feel at all upset (53 per cent) compared to girls (24 per cent). Girls were much more likely to have been upset a lot by the experience (23 per cent) compared to boys (eight per cent).

Fewer than half (46 per cent) of 13-year-olds who had experienced bullying told an adult, the study finds.

More positively, the ‘08 cohort of 13 year-olds are making healthier choices. Just ten per cent had had an alcoholic drink, compared with 16 per cent of their counterparts ten years earlier, though girls were now more likely to have than boys, a reversal of the situation. Smoking is less likely falling from nine per cent to just three per cent having tried cigarettes or tobacco.

However, nine per cent have “ever used a vape” – a choice not available ten years earlier – with girls more likely than boys to have (10 per cent v seven per cent).

Almost one-third (30 per cent) of 13 year-olds in the lowest-income families were “overweight or obese”, compared to 20 per cent in highest-income families.

Just over half (55 per cent) of the ‘08 cohort had discussed sex and/or relationship issues with a parent, with girls (59 per cent) more likely to than boys (52 per cent). This compares to 46 per cent of the ‘98 cohort discussing these with a parent.

Asked whom they would be most likely go to for information or advice about sex and/or relationships, the most popular choice was “mum” (37 per cent), followed by friends (17 per cent), the internet (13 per cent), nowhere (eight per cent), dad (8 per cent), teachers (7 per cent) and sibling (6 per cent).

More than three-quarters of 13-year-olds said they “got on very well” with the parent who usually looked after them, with one per cent saying they “do not get on” with their primary carer.

One in five had a biological parent living elsewhere and there was considerable diversity in patterns of contact between them and the non-resident parent. While 22 per cent saw them face-to-face “more than once a week” 34 per cent “never saw them face-to-face”. Almost a third had no contact all.

Asked what they were looking forward to about being an adult, 32 per cent said “travelling to different countries”, followed by “living in my own place” (18 per cent) and “getting a job” (16 per cent).

Commenting, Minister for Children Roderic O’Gorman said: “This research provides us with up-to-date evidence on some of the challenges that teenagers are experiencing today. It shows us what we, in Government, need to focus on so that we can support all young people to reach their full potential and to live healthy, happy lives.”

Kitty Holland

Kitty Holland

Kitty Holland is Social Affairs Correspondent of The Irish Times