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Scottish youngsters are among the most sociable and happy in Europe and North America
Happy teens
Update by news editor   02-05-2012

Europe’s happiest teenagers

Scottish happiness linked to good friendships and strong social lives

Scots teenagers are among the happiest in Europe and North America, according to a survey.

Young Scots in three different age groups said they had "high" life satisfaction.

The people questioned were aged 11, 13 and 15. The 11-year-olds were the happiest, with 91% saying they were highly satisfied, compared to 87% of 13-year-olds and 84.5% of 15-year-olds.

Researchers said this contentment comes from having good friendships and social lives.

"Scottish youngsters are generally a sociable bunch and not at all isolated," said Dr Jo Inchley, one of the researchers.

Nearly all Scottish 13-year-olds have three or more friends. That puts them at the top of the international results table.

And 13 and 15-year-old Scots are among those most likely to spend four or more evenings a week out with friends.

But the story is not all positive. Compared to the same age groups in England, our nation's youngsters start smoking earlier, exercise less and eat less fruit.

Scottish 15-year-olds are also in the top ten for drinking the most alcohol.

Nearly 7,000 school-aged Scottish children were chosen at random to take part in the questionnaire, organised by researchers at St Andrew's University. A total of 200,000 surveys were completed by young people in 43 different countries.


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Europe’s happiest teenagers

Friends: how to make them and how to keep them

Here's something you can try at home. Count your friends. Now add your classmates, the people you bump into at the shops or the football. Count everyone you wouldn't be embarrassed to say hello to if you saw them on the street. Whatever number you end up with, it will almost certainly be no greater than 150. That's because you, your friends, their friends, in fact everyone you know, all obey an invisible limit on friendship without realising it.

Before you say, "Facebook", it obeys the invisible rule too. On the face of it, of course, it and other social networking sites look like they've gone over the limit, with some people boasting 500, 600, 700 or more friends.

Evolutionary anthropologist at Oxford University, Professor Robin Dunbar, who discovered the 150 limit, says the number of friends on Facebook is almost always under 150. Those with high numbers probably know little about most on their list.

To many of us, 150 might seem like a high number, but that includes not just your best friends - there tends to be two or three of them - but everyone you know, friend or acquaintance.

Prof Dunbar, who explores the idea of the limit in his book How Many Friends Does One Person Need?, says the 150 number was laid down when early man began to live in larger groups. Bigger groups meant man needed bigger brains to cope with a greater number of relationships. So we got bigger brains and bigger groups until we got to a number that worked.

Prof Dunbar says Facebook and other similar sites create the impression we can move on from this historic limit and increase our number of friends, but it's an illusion.

"To have a relationship you have to go and … do something with someone, even if it's only talking. It's a face-to-face thing," said Prof Dunbar.

"There's something about doing something face to face. It's about reading the real meaning of words. You can say stuff and mean it or mean the opposite, but online you don't get those facial or vocal cues. You may meet someone through Facebook or similar, but whether that relationship blossoms in real life depends on what you see when you meet."

Like Facebook, Prof Dunbar is sceptical about friendship changing in the age of the celebrity. Elton John may throw a party for hundreds of close friends and Paris Hilton may look for a friend via a reality TV show, but the essential rules don't change. "The celebrity issue is gimmick," says Prof Dunbar. "Our work suggests that friendship in any meaningful sense is something that requires effort, best done face to face."


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adapted from article by Helen McArdle

Experiences & Outcomes

  • I am aware of and able to express my feelings and am developing the ability to talk about them. HWB 2-01a / HWB 3-01a / HWB 4-01a
  • I know that we all experience a variety of thoughts and emotions that affect how we feel and behave and I am learning ways of managing them. HWB 2-02a / HWB 3-02a / HWB 4-02a
  • I understand that my feelings and reactions can change depending upon what is happening within and around me. This helps me to understand my own behaviour and the way others behave. HWB 2-04a / HWB 3-04a / HWB 4-04a
  • I can use evidence selectively to research current social, political or economic issues. SOC 2-15a
  • I can use my knowledge of current social, political or economic issues to interpret evidence and present an informed view. SOC 3-15a
  • I can evaluate conflicting sources of evidence to sustain a line of argument. SOC 4-15a