Posted: 29 September 2015

16 and 17 year olds at risk

Being 16 and 17 years old is a time of transition from childhood to adulthood. During this time, young people are making more and more decisions that have significant implications for later life.

Our Seriously Awkward report shows that a significant number of these young people may feel under pressure to make choices that can jeopardise their future.

What pressures do older teenagers feel?

In our poll of more than 1,000 16 and 17 year olds we asked about pressures they face, such as the extent to which they feel under and succumb to pressure to take part in activities outside their families that may lead to risks of harm and exploitation.

The activities that 16-17 year olds most frequently reported to be under pressure to engage in included:

  • 15% reported feeling under pressure to spend time with people they do not feel comfortable with
  • 15% reported pressure to attend parties and events where they did not feel comfortable
  • 10% felt under pressure to drink alcohol
  • 8% reported feeling under pressure to engage in sexual activity
  • 6% reported under pressure to send explicit pictures of themselves

These findings are particularly concerning in light of recent high profile cases of sexual exploitation of teenagers and given research and statistic suggesting that this age group are particularly at risk of sexual abuse.

For example, the Office of the Children’s Commissioner’s report into sexual exploitation by groups and gangs estimated that out of 16,500 cases of those at risk of child sexual exploitation, around 44% were age 16 or 17.

Who are they under pressure from?

In our poll a good proportion of young people (39%) reported that they did not feel under pressure from other people to do things. But where they did, 16-17 year olds reported that the pressure was coming from friends of their age and peers at school and colleges, while parents were more likely to think that the pressure is coming more from older friends, underestimating the role of peers in child’s life.

Table: Who puts 16-17 year olds under pressure?

One of the worrying findings from Seriously Awkward report is that 38% of young people who reported feeling under pressure to take and send explicit picture of themselves said that the pressure came from people they came to know online, while only 13% of parents thought that online contacts put pressure on children to do so. Both parents and young people aged 16 and 17 indicated that they need more information to stay safe online.

What can help 16-17 year olds stay safe? 

Table: What helps those who feel pressurised resist the pressure to do things

Information and support from families are key in helping older teenagers make the right choices.

But they are not enough. Statistics show that 16 to 24 year olds are more likely than any other age group to become victims of violent crimes:

Table: Victims of violent crimes by age

Yet the legal protections are not always consistent with the risks older teenagers face outside their families. For example, there are many protections in place to prevent anyone under the age of 18 from getting hold of and using alcohol but the new threat of ‘legal highs’ is not yet addressed and many vulnerable 16 and 17 year olds become exploited through the use of ‘legal highs’. Similarly, this age group is not protected from abduction by adults who may pose risk to children, or from being groomed online for sexual exploitation.

You can help – sign our petition

We launched our Seriously Awkward campaign calling on the Government to ensure that 16 and 17 year olds are offered proper protection and support to thrive and stay safe.

By Iryna Pona - Policy team