Teenagers don't think it's clever to trust adults

Teenagers' ability to trust is influenced more by their teachers and classmates than parents. Most don't trust adults - and the cleverer they are, the less likely they are to trust them.

Adi Bloom

These findings emerge from the Birmingham University survey of 12,575 15- year-olds around Europe (see story, above).

They asked the teenagers questions designed to reveal their level of trust in people. Most said they did not trust adults in general and had learnt to be cautious in dealing with them. Fifty-one per cent claimed not to trust others. The remaining 49 per cent said they trusted others to some degree.

Pupils who do well at school are less likely to trust others than average achievers. And average pupils, in turn, are less trusting than their lowest-performing peers, leading the researchers to suggest that mistrust might be linked to perception of the world around them.

More significantly, they say: "There is a very clear relationship . between students' reports of justice in school and their sense of trust in other people."

Pupils who get along well with their teachers are more trusting in general. Similarly, those who believe that school punishments are always meted out fairly are more inclined to trust others.

But many pupils said the grades awarded by teachers did not always reflect the quality of schoolwork. They also bemoaned favouritism.

"Teachers were not always perceived to be treating students fairly and consistently," the researchers say. "A common view was that teachers had . favourites; that rewards and punishments were not always applied fairly; and that certain groups of students were treated less fairly than others."

Other pupils also play a role in determining levels of trust. Pupils who have been isolated by their classmates are less inclined to trust. And the least trusting are those who have been victims of bullying, violence or theft.

The academics say: "What happens at school . influences students' sense of what is just and fair, and what wider society is like."

They conclude that teachers have a clear responsibility to help create trust. "Teachers can help produce positive citizens both through the respect with which they treat students, and in the way they act to prevent the mistreatment of some students by others.

"Citizenship is not merely a subject . it must be a way of life."

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Adi Bloom

Adi Bloom is Tes comment editor

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