Australian children are now more sociable and less anxious than they were 20 years ago, a new study says. They are better adjusted, less likely to be aggressive and have fewer anxiety and conduct problems.
The findings by the Australian Institute of Family Studies fly in the face of the popular belief that children today are more difficult to control.
AdvertisementThe study examined how 10,000 families with two- to three-year-olds and six- to seven-year-olds reported their child's progress and compared it to an almost identical study conducted of Australian children in the mid-1980s, known as the Australian Temperament Project.
The AIFS study, using information from its Longitudinal Study of Australian Children, found two- to three-year-olds 20 years ago were less sociable, less likely to stick at tasks and more frustrated than children of the same age today.
In particular, it showed that 20 years ago 8 per cent of these toddlers had difficulty falling asleep, compared with just 2 per cent today.
Children that age were more than twice as likely to hurt others then as now, it found, and while 9per cent of toddlers were reported as destructive 20 years ago, only 5 per cent were deemed so today.
"At six to seven years ATP children continued to be more reactive and less sociable, and exhibited higher rates of conduct and internalising problems than LSAC children," the study found.
The study's lead author Diana Smart says the results were rather surprising.
"The groups were really very similar, but today's children did have an edge in their social skills, in how they were getting on with other people."
"Today's parents might know a little bit more about children's development than in the '80s," she said.
"There's a lot of attention given to children's development and growing up and we see programs like Super Nanny and those sorts of things.
"Perhaps today's parents are a little bit more tolerant and understanding of children's development than in the past."
She says the study refutes the common view that these older anxious parents are putting a lot of pressure on their children, who feel that pressure and are themselves anxious.
"That is a popular perception; but the evidence from the latest study - the children of the 2000s - in fact suggest that the older parents perhaps have a slight edge in their parenting skills compared with the younger parents when we have looked at it," she said.
The study also found that while today's parents reported that their children were more sociable and less aggressive than parents did 20 years ago, teachers today report more behavioural issues than previously.
But Helena Card from St Josephs Memorial School in Norwood in South Australia says it is not the children who have changed in that time.
"I think as teachers, that we understand the behaviours of children a lot better," she said.
"Our learning has progressed to understand many issues and underlying styles of learning that children have present within the classroom.
"Whether that be behavioural or learning difficulties or diversities, we're able to cater to these a lot better now. Whereas before we may not have understood them as well as we do now."