Wild behaviour: Is this your child?

10 March 2014

In a survey done by YOU two years ago, the answers about sexual behaviour, drinking habits and drug-taking amongst teens as young as 11 will keep moms awake at night - even now. The results of the investigation, and perhaps more importantly, the expert advice, is as relevant today as it was then. Read more here if you wish your toddlers could stay sweet and innocent forever or you're worried about your teen's behaviour.

In a survey done two years ago, the answers about sexual behaviour, drinking habits and drug-taking amongst teens as young as 11 will keep moms awake at night - even now. The results of the investigation, and perhaps more importantly, the expert advice, is as relevant today as it was then. Read more here if you wish your toddlers could stay sweet and innocent forever or you're worried about your teen's behaviour.

She's 13 and an ordinary learner in a former Model C school. A year ago she began pushing the boundary between innocence and being “the most experienced” in her group. Could she be your daughter?

“Last year when our teacher was absent six classmates and I played spin the bottle in the hall behind the curtain on the stage,” she says. She was a 12-year-old primary school child at the time and was dared to take off her bra. A boy was dared to take off his pants. “I did it. Luckily I liked him.”

She hasn’t had penetrative sex but since that experience in the school hall she has performed oral sex twice on the same boy and allowed him to put his hands under her dress. “Lots of my friends have never done stuff like that. After I did it the first time people were cheering me on and I became really popular. More boys also started talking to me.”

She has also smoked occasionally since a 13-year-old classmate brought cigarettes to school. “It looks cool. Sometimes we smoke in shopping malls too.”

It’s anecdotes such as these that keep parents awake at night, worrying about what’s going on in the lives of the often secretive teens living under their roof. And they have cause for concern, according to a comprehensive survey of teens’ sexual, drinking and smoking habits recently commissioned.

Among the respondents in former Model C schools – those viewed as SA’s better resourced institutions – in three big centres, a third have had sex, half have experimented with alcohol, almost a third have smoked cigarettes and 12 per cent have used dagga.

The youngest was just 11, the oldest 16.Many of the research figures will be deeply disturbing to parents. But the way teenagers describe activities of which mom and dad are probably blissfully unaware might be the most troubling of all.

A 13-year-old girl tells of a “champagne party”. “I had three ciders. It made me feel happy and I danced all night. The next morning I had a headache and I slept all day.” She hasn’t “drunk very often” since then. “My parents would kill me. I’m only 13.”

She understands what oral sex and intercourse are and has three friends who’ve had the latter. She also knows about 10 who drink alcohol and three who smoke dagga. A 14-year-old girl admits to having had sex with two people, the first time with a 17-year-old. “I’ve also had oral sex a few times.”

The first time she had alcohol was when she and five friends drank a bottle of vodka during a school stay-awake night. She has imbibed again since then, although not often, and usually gets the alcohol from older friends. This girl has about 20 friends who smoke cigarettes, 10 friends who smoke dagga and three acquaintances who use other drugs.

She appears indifferent to risky behaviour and suggests it might be the norm. “We all sneed to experiment sometimes, as long as we know we should finish our schoolwork before we party,” she says. “I can’t wait to be 18 and do whatever I want.”

A 15-year-old boy says he has tried dagga a few times and found it “okay”. The first time, last year, “we laughed for hours and ate everything we could get our hands on. It was just for fun, to laugh and get the munchies.

“About twice a month my friends and I also drink a few beers and a brandy while we’re chilling. All my pals drink, except my Muslim friends.”

Does he think drinking alcohol is common among the kids he knows? “Yes, it’s too easy to buy it.” He and his friends bought dagga for the first time from a “car guard Rasta”. Teens he knows usually buy it from car guards. He has also used poppers, recreational drugs (comprising various kinds of alkyl nitrites) the user inhales, usually to enhance sexual pleasure.

When he was 13 he had sex for the first time with a 14-year-old. He has also had oral sex with one partner to date. “Most of my friends have had sex once or twice.”

A 15-year-old coolly states she has had sex with three boys, the first time at age 14 with a much older teen and once without a condom. And she and her boyfriend practise oral sex. “I was 13 and at a party when I first drank alcohol: vodka and juice, and tequila. I was wasted. I was sick the whole of the next day.

“The cops once saw us drinking in a park. They took our Sambuca away and took us home. My parents grounded me for a week. Now I have about four drinks at a time once a month.”

She also smokes about a pack a week “because everyone at home smokes and my gran buys me cigarettes”. “I smoked dagga for the first time when I was 12. We bought it at a taxi rank, smoked it out of an apple and laughed all the time. I don’t smoke it that often, just to have a fat laugh.

“Last year I tried tik and didn’t eat or sleep for two days. It was cool for the first few hours but then it made me feel sick. I’ll never try it again.”

Is she worried about the dangers of such risky behaviour? “I don’t have a problem with it. Everyone does it; it’s natural to try things.”

It seems there’s no shortage of money for risky behaviour. A 15-year-old says she spends her weekly R1 000 pocket money on lunches and cigarettes. “My friends and I all started smoking last year.” She doesn’t drink often but has been drunk at parties. “I got really drunk on apple sours at some university students’ house party last year. We played drinking games.”

It has happened again since then and her parents are unaware of it. “I don’t think I’ll drink again any time soon.” She has been to school dances and sports events where dagga was available. Some of her classmates have tried it but she hasn’t felt the desire. Her best friend (16) “says she’s not a virgin any more”.

A 16-year-old cricket player says he and his mates always have discussions about “who can go the furthest with a girl”, mostly at parties or at home when their parents are away. He has “experimented with sex” since age 12 and says he had sex for the first time last year. “I was 15 and it was outside at a pool party. I’ve had sex three times since then: twice with the same girl, who’s also 16 now, and once with a 15-year-old girl.”

He has considered having unprotected sex but has always used a condom. “I know about Aids and I’m careful.” For the sake of his sport he avoids cigarettes and drugs but he drinks alcohol. “Last December a friend who’s tall and looks older than he is bought us some beer. But when I was 13 we started pinching whatever we could from our parents’ drinks cabinets.”

Another 16-year-old says she has tried dagga a few times, “mostly Swazi”.

A 17-year-old learner says he usually drinks at social events with his friends or parents. He and his friends buy alcohol themselves. “We’re never asked for our IDs because some of my friends are big-built and look older than they are.”

Another 17-year-old boy says, “The first time I was drunk was last year when I was 16. My parents were there and they laughed at me. My mom buys me booze now and I accept my parents regulate my drinking.

“I don’t smoke because it would affect my sport. I know about a lot of people who smoke dagga although since they began testing us, not at my school any more.

“I haven’t had sex yet but I believe I will if I’ve been going out with a girl for long enough. But unprotected sex is crazy – it puts too much pressure on the girl.”

Disturbing trends

Our teen survey was done among predominantly English- and Afrikaans speaking youths aged between 12 and 16. Professional market researchers Leelyn Management asked 205 respondents at pre-selected former Model C schools in the Western Cape (51 per cent), Gauteng (44 per cent) and KwaZulu-Natal (5 per cent) wide-ranging questions about sexual behaviour and substance use. About 27 per cent of the respondents were 14 years old; 26 per cent were 16; 21 per cent were 15; 17 per cent were 13 and nine per cent were 12. About 52 per cent were girls and 48 per cent were boys. The teens answered the questions by means of questionnaires during life-skills classes at school. They remained anonymous and their feedback was treated as strictly confidential throughout.

The survey has confirmed South Africa faces critical challenges in these areas. Here is what the main findings show.


  • A third of all respondents have had sex.
  • 38 per cent have performed oral sex.
  • 32 per cent have received oral sex.
  • 72 per cent of the respondents know what penetrative sex is.
  • 79 per cent know what oral sex is.

Of the respondents who have had sex:

  • 65 per cent were aged between 13 and 14 when they had sex for the first time; 10 per cent lost their virginity between 11 and 12.
  • 42 per cent have had sex with up to three partners and 15 per cent with more than three.
  • 69 per cent have had unprotected sex.
  • 58 per cent used a condom the first time and 71 per cent the last time.


Half the respondents have had alcohol. Of these:

  • 48 per cent were between 13 and 14 years old the first time they tried it, 16 per cent were 11 or 12 and eight per cent were 10 or younger.
  • 30 per cent drank less frequently than once a month, 18 per cent once a month, 15 per cent a few times a month and nine per cent once a week.
  • 43 per cent say they drink for fun, enjoyment and entertainment value, 14 per cent because of peer pressure and 13 per cent only at parties.


Almost a third have smoked cigarettes. Of these:

  • 40 per cent smoke daily, 30 per cent a few times a day, five per cent once a day and five per cent several times a day.
  • 65 per cent smoked for the first time at age 13 or 14 and 19 per cent at 11 or 12.
  • 18 per cent smoke because it’s cool, 15 per cent because their friends do it, 15 per cent because they like it and 11 per cent to relieve stress.


About 12 per cent have smoked dagga. Of these:

  • 58 per cent smoke at least once amonth, 17 per cent smoke a few times  a month, 13 per cent several times a day, eight per cent once a week andeight per cent a few times a week.
  •  54 per cent tried it for the first time at age 13 or 14 and 17 per cent at 11 or 12 – primary school age.
  • 34 per cent do it “because being high is fun” and 30 per cent to relax.

Other drugs

  • About three per cent have tried tik.
  • A few have used ecstasy, cocaine, Cat, magic mushrooms or LSD, or have sniffed glue and petrol.

Teenagers were asked: How can parents and teachers best help them cope with the risks of sex, drinking, smoking and drugs?

  • 13-year-old: “Kids today do their own thing; all parents and teachers can do is warn us.”
  • 14-year-old: “Parents can’t do anything except inform us. It will still be our choice at the end of the day.”
  • 15-year-old: “Teachers do a good job teaching us about sex and drugs . . . we should just listen to them.”

The Medical Research Council suggests:

The emphasis in sex education should be on individual groups’ needs. Condom use especially should be targeted.

Sport, exercise and a healthy diet should be encouraged and their benefits emphasised.

Comprehensive prevention programmes against tobacco, alcohol and drug use should be undertaken, ensuring counsellors support learners who have problems that could result in substance abuse. how to beat peer pressure.

Is drinking really such a big deal?

About 60 per cent of learners who drink fare poorly at school as a result of the brain damage alcohol causes, according to You Decide, a campaign against teen drinking by South African Breweries, government departments and others.

People who start drinking before age 15 are four times more susceptible to alcoholism than those who start at 20 or later and 67 per cent of these young drinkers will in time use drugs.

Teen drinkers’ chances of becoming involved in violent crime are also three times greater, according to You Decide.

But how can young people say no when they hear “come on, have a drink”, “come on, have a smoke”, or “come play sex games”? You Decide’s advice regarding alcohol abuse applies to all risky practices. It points out to teens that rising above challenges is a skill that will help them become successful adults. Anyone can say yes, You Decide emphasises. Saying no the first time might be tough but it gets easier.

How to say no and still be cool?

The positive-no approach helps, according to the campaign. Think of an important reason why you don’t want to drink, such as, “I’d rather train because I want to play national rugby one day.” In other words, “I don’t want to drink with you but I value your friendship and still want to hang out with you. I just don’t want to drink or smoke, use drugs or play spin the bottle.”

- Richard van RensBurg, Haji Mohamed Dawjee, Chrizane van Zyl

This article first appeared in YOU on 29 March 2012

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