NZ ‘Great Place To Raise Kids,’ Not So Great For Teens

Various media outlets are today carrying a story about the release of a new report from the Prime Minister’s chief science adviser, Sir Peter Gluckman, called Improving the Transition. Reducing Social and Psychological Morbidity During Adolescence.

This is how Stuff started its coverage of the report

NZ teens at ‘unprecedented risk’ – report

Adolescents growing up in New Zealand have to navigate a gauntlet of dangers that are putting them at unprecedented risk, a major Government report says.

The report from the Prime Minister’s chief science adviser, Sir Peter Gluckman, says one in five young New Zealanders will face problems as they grow up that will affect the rest of their lives.

Alcohol, depression, drugs, bullying and earlier sexual development are among the issues singled out in the report, which was authored by two dozen leading researchers… read more

You can read a full copy of the report here and we’ve included the executive summary from it below.

Great Place To Raise Kids

Still thinking about moving to New Zealand because you’ve heard it’s a great place to raise kids?

You may want to start by reading our Stats and Facts page about Education and Children’s Issues in New Zealand. This is the first section from that page:

“Aotearoa/ New Zealand has;

  • A problem with gangs that are contributing to crime and abuse in the home. Young people are joining gangs for safety and are becoming victims of gang life.
  • A problem with bullying – particularly of specific groups like refugee and migrant young people.
  • A problem with child abuse which is not just statistics or features in death notices in newspapers but a reality that many of the young story tellers knew and experienced.
  • An issue with domestic violence affecting the lives of many children and young people.

          quote from “HEAR OUR VOICES” by  Save the Children, NZ:

Despite statements like the above by Save the Children,  New Zealand is often presented to migrants as a great place to bring up the kids. Is this Marketing hype or just wishful thinking on the part of migrants trying to justify their decisions to leave?

Are you going from frying pan to fire?

It sounds patronising, but sometimes I feel sorry for New Zealand. We’re a curious anomaly. One day the country is rated as one of the best places in the world to live, most peaceful, best quality of life, best cities to visit, best coastline, best leisure sports. For such a small population, we do incredibly well at certain things and appear, from the outside, to be at one with the environment. Yet, at the same time, there’s high teen suicide and pregnancy rates, high alcohol consumption, high rates of bullying, domestic violence and child abuse.

If New Zealand is such a fabulous place to live, why are we leaving?…” read more on MSN Money NZ


The Chief Coroner said he was “shocked and frustrated” by the high number of very young teens (some as young as 13) who drink themselves to death in New Zealand. It’s another symptom of the country’s hard drinking/binge drinking culture.

How would you feel if you found out that your daughter”s school was offering her nicotine patches and other quit smoking products to her and her classmates to wean them off cigarettes. Would you want to be consulted beforehand?

Woud you still move knowing that New Zealand has some of the highest rates of child abuse, teen pregnancy and youth suicide in the world?

How do feel about New Zealand’s problems with youth violence,  human rights abuses in its schools, a bullying culture, the low quality of education and host of other problems including high incidences of diseases more usually associated with developing countries?

Have you thought about your child’s future as they become an adult in New Zealand, will there be sufficient work for them and will they have to leave to have a reasonable chance of a bright future?”

Read more from our facts and stats page

Improving the Transition. Reducing Social and Psychological Morbidity During Adolescence. (Emphasis ours)

Executive summary

Adolescents in New Zealand relative to those in other developed countries have a high rate of social morbidity. While most adolescents are resilient to the complexities of the social milieu in which they live, at least 20% of young New Zealanders will exhibit behaviours and emotions or have experiences that lead to long-term consequences affecting the rest of their lives.

• An extensive and unbiased review of the relevant scientific literature has been undertaken by a multidisciplinary panel of experts. The key points are summarised in this introductory Synthesis Report, and the main part of the report contains the detailed and domain-specific reviews.

One dominant message comes through – that application of the international and domestic evidence base to policy formation and programme development in this area will lead to better outcomes for our young people. However, to do so will require a prolonged effort over several electoral cycles and cannot be held hostage to adversarial politics. Our research suggests that many programmes have been introduced, albeit with good intent, that are unlikely to succeed as they are not supported by the evidence base, whereas other approaches likely to be effective have not been implemented. A key challenge is to ensure that all programmes are appropriately monitored to ensure that they are effective and cost effective within the New Zealand context, allowing better use of scarce public resources to support our young people.

• Adolescence is now a prolonged period in the human life course. Its length is influenced by the declining age of puberty as child health has improved and by the rising age at which young people are accepted as adults. This has both societal and biological elements, the latter reflecting recent findings that brain maturation is not complete until well into the third decade of life and that the last functions to mature are those of impulse control and judgement. It is therefore inevitable that adolescence is a period of risk-taking and impulsivity. For many children these are basically healthy and transient behaviours, but for too many there are long-term negative consequences. The key issue is what can be done to change the nature of, and reduce the impact of, these behaviours.

• The evidence shows that the risk of impulsive and antisocial behaviour is greatly increased by experiences earlier in life. It is now clear that early childhood is the critical period in which executive functions such as the fundamentals of self-control are established. Children who do not adequately develop these executive functions in early life are more likely to make poor decisions during adolescence, given the inevitable exposures to risk in the teenage years. It is very clear from our review of the literature that more can be done to improve socialisation and executive function development by reorientation of early childhood programmes. Further, while all children will benefit from these programmes, the evidence is compelling that targeting intensive but costly interventions towards the higher-risk sections of the community has a high rate of social and economic return. Hence the critical importance of adopting a life-course approach to prevention.

• Remediation in adolescence is not likely to be as effective as prevention. Although there are some remediation programmes that are partially effective, others clearly are not. Public and voluntary investment in programmes directed towards at-risk adolescents needs to be re-orientated towards those interventions that can be shown by high quality research to have real impact within the New Zealand context.

• The adolescent brain is clearly more sensitive to both alcohol and cannabis, with long-lasting adverse consequences for far too many. Stronger measures are needed to restrict access of young people to these drugs.

One cannot overestimate the changed nature of the social environment in which young people find themselves compared with that of previous generations. The nature of peer pressure and role models has been radically altered by exposure to electronically connected social networks and to very different media content. Young people have far greater freedom, engendered by more ready access to funds. While the exact impact of these changes is difficult to ascertain, it is clear that they have radically affected the social pressures that influence adolescent behaviour. This creates challenges for parents and society in establishing boundaries and acceptable behaviours.

A significant proportion of young people suffer from depression and other mental health disorders, yet the range of services available to them is inadequate. Given New Zealand’s high rate of adolescent suicide and psychological morbidity we suggest that priority be given to addressing this capacity gap and to raising public awareness of the particularities of adolescent depression.

• In general, most of the risky and impulsive behaviours of adolescence reflect incomplete maturation of self-control and judgement. Accordingly, punitive approaches are less likely to be effective than well-established and validated approaches that attempt to remedy these deficits. There is an inherent conflict between the practical focus on using chronological age to determine rights and obligations and the highly individualistic processes of maturation.

• The young people of New Zealand reflect the changing ethnic mix of our population. While the issues and their solutions are generic across all of our population, programmes must be developed and delivered in culturally appropriate ways to the very different communities that now make up young New Zealand. Targeted investments in the ‘long tail’ of educational underachievement and social disengagement will be needed. It is clear that while adolescent morbidity is observed across the whole of our communities, it is disproportionately found within sectors where there is intergenerational disadvantage.

• Social investment in New Zealand should take more account of the growing evidence that prevention and intervention strategies applied early in life are more effective in altering outcomes and reap more economic returns over the life course than do strategies applied later. This will require long-term commitment to appropriate policies and programmes.
Synthesis Report

• The report identifies a number of knowledge gaps that should be addressed.

14 thoughts on “NZ ‘Great Place To Raise Kids,’ Not So Great For Teens

  1. This week on TVNZ’s Close Up:

    “Reporter Jehan Casinader investigates what life is like in one of our toughest towns. Sex for drugs and organised fights – and we’re talking about teenagers. What can be done to help?.”

    The show hasn’t even aired yet and no one know what the town is, but read some of the comments that have already been left on the Close Up Facebook page

    Ryan Blundell
    “Who really cares where this is? its happening all over the country. I have been overseas for the last two years and since I have returned 6 months ago, I have been very suprised by the amount of street drug dealers that have randomly approached me. I would say about 40% of the times I have been out in Central Auckland I have been approached. One time out henderson i was approached during the day time. I cant recall this ever happening to me in the past. all of them were young, one was only 16!”

    Kellee Corness
    @Kaye Basset Millar: Bullshit! Out of the 4 kids who used to get regular straps at my school, one is dead, 2 are drug dealers and the other is fried on P. The strap never taught them to respect their elders. Their parents fcked their lives up for them. Adults have a lot to answer for when it comes to troubled youth!!!

    Jonathan Rodgers
    “reaping what we’ve sown ……this is not just one tough community there are models of this in ever town and city in this country ……….social fail”

    Here at E2NZ we’re guessing it could be Whangarei. Read Kids in New Zealand, the village lets them down

  2. I know why the choice is so much more often suicide than homicide. Suicide is less hassle.
    I am sure many of them just want a reprieve from life in New Zealand, even if it’s one way out.

  3. The Kronic ads on youth radio reveal the casual attitude towards recreational drug use here. They may crack down on the worst of it, such as P labs and overt symptoms that other countries might notice, but the breadth of the problem under the table, its impact on everyday life in NZ, is one they choose to mostly ignore. I think the quiet desperation of life here drives people to destress with substances, which in turn makes their circumstances worse.

  4. Sorry, I should revise my statement to read:
    “The only way this situation will change is if NZ-ers begin to understand that the process of education is going to produce people suited to being cooperative and productive to society, and will exclude those who are consistently and intentionally disruptive and destructive.”
    Because sometimes people may have learning/socialisation disabilities, but that doesn’t mean they should have a lower quality of education.

  5. The problem here is that no one will cop to anything. No one will accept responsibility. It is the opposite of Japan or someplace like that as far as ethics are concerned, but with the same tribalism and preoccupation with losing face.

    One of the things that bothers me the most about having children in this culture (and were it not for the father I would leave with them) is that they learn some strange ways of behaving, automatically making excuses for or ignoring the bad behavior of others. For example my son had a bully after him in school. He has learned not to tell me, he has learned not to go to the teachers. Do not ask me how he has learned. What he does is maneuver around the bully and say that the bully is actually bullying the humanity in himself when he is mean to others. This way the bully goes on doing what he is doing and everyone puts up with it. This is in primary school. The children who steal are excused because they are poor. These matters are like elephants in a large room that everyone is walking around. And the elephants keep proliferating and they keep finding ways to walk around them. What excuses will they come up with when stealing bullies turn 25 and kill someone on a drug spree? Crime of passion by socioeconomically disadvantaged person, I suppose, and a slap on the wrist.

    • The idea that bullies have low self-esteem is false; the bullies are the people most likely to think extremely highly of themselves since they are able to get away with so much destructive behaviour.
      It doesn’t help that a lot of NZ culture is based around machismo, anti-intellectualism, respect for taking shortcuts and “fake it till you make it”.
      The only way this situation will change is if NZ-ers begin to understand that the process of education is going to produce people suited to being cooperative and productive to society, and will exclude those who are disruptive and destructive. It seems to be a very hard lesson to learn, when the people who have the most confidence, are also those with the least learning and the shortest tempers.
      “She’ll be right, mate” does a lot to explain the essence of the problem.

  6. I have tried to get help for some of my own child’s problems, but no one seems to want to or be able to. It’s lack of funds. It’s mostly fatigue. Life is hard here, so only the worst problems are addressed, and only too late or at the last minute. One British friend of mine had a high-functioning very intelligent autistic child she tried to get help for, but she finally went home after years. Minus the Kiwi husband. Luckily, she was allowed to leave. Others are not so lucky, and the other partner will not see the country’s problems and forces everyone to stay.

    This is a good article. She talks about elder abuse, but the same applies to child abuse. Compassion fatigue here is so bad, it is like a car alarm. .

    “So why are we so focused on the parents when it comes to the abuse of children? We’ve reached a dangerous level of child abuse fatigue in this country. I call it the car alarm syndrome. When we hear a car alarm go off, we don’t investigate to see if someone is pinching the car, we just wish someone would turn the blimming thing off. Same when people see obvious and recidivist signs of child abuse. The parents are excused because of drug and alcohol problems, financial problems, relationship problems. We don’t save children when we excuse parents who harm them. And we don’t save children with endless reports and studies and “scientific” best practice gobbledygook assessments.”

    They just pass the buck ,put their fingers in their years, intimidate people into silence, and talk endlessly to avoid taking any action or spending money here, at all levels of their society. Everywhere we go, it’s nothing but talk, wait, shut up, FIFO, give me money. But dare actually do something, and they’ll pile on you like flies on potato salad. It is a prehistoric tar pit.

  7. Carolyn what part of the country are you in & what services have you approached for assistance, is your son on any form of medication and what effect is that having?

    Hopefully someone who’s been through the same will read your messages and will be able to offer you advice or support.

  8. As the mother of a teenage boy who was / is severely depressed I found a complete lack of services willing to help us. I was told to look at websites (yes, I read so much and so many) and to take him to a counsellor. He was 16 hours a day in bed, he stopped eating, he didn’t drink anything (water, liquid), his hair started to fall out, he became very thin, he wouldn’t go out the door much less to a counsellor. And still when I called various services I got told to look at websites. I am willing to volunteer any time and energy I have to help advocate for better services for our adolescents and for their caregivers. It is the caregivers (my case – a parent) who are struggling to know where to turn. This situation is critical. There is an urgency to push this through. The incident last weekend (David Gaynor) shows us once more that our teens are suffering and have no tools to cope. I am happy to be contacted.

    • I’ve found, while I worked with students requiring assistance, that those who care the most tend to be the ones that get hurt the most. Funnily enough the students requiring assistance made a genuine go of things and really wanted to learn — and the things they were learning exceeded my qualification level (B.Sc.).

      Many immigrants putting their best foot forward by doing their utmost to help, eventually face the brick walls of visas running out and no permanent employment. And it seems the kind of “confidence” people having permanent jobs require, is the “confidence” of “Don’t you dare ask me a question like that” and not “You’ve raise something that I’ll require some time to answer, and I’ll get back to you with what you need”.

      Qualified caring people will usually be put off when they realise to get a job they will have to sacrifice their values and ideals. It’s at this point that many turn to addictive substances to cope.

      You’re not alone, but in order for this problem in NZ to be addressed, a culture change needs to happen. And that requires the input of “intellectuals”, a class that many in NZ (notwithstanding the recent poll that said scientists were the most trusted) hate.

      Peer pressure and the desire to maintain an image, to fit in, is what drives a lot of this attitude. And the shortsighted solutions of “harden up”, “you’re overthinking things”, “you’re weird”, “you’re creepy” along with judgemental ACTIONS – make being an actual person with a conscience, difficult.

      Because when you’re not allowed to care or think… you end up with a nation mostly made up of people who do not care TO think.

      Have you contacted any universities in your area to discover resources you might find useful?

    • As I actually read further, the cost of sending someone to King’s College is NZD31,600/year.
      That would probably only encourage the really well-heeled to go there.

      I’m not sure that enough discipline exists in places where people with so many options can have their heads adjusted to become productive members of a society.

      After all, a powerful parent can make a teacher’s life hell… but at the same time one should never forget that some teachers are incompetent – and bad teachers can and do bully students. Bad headmasters bully staff.

      What have management been doing with all this money they have been getting? At this point in time I’m inclined to say they have probably indulged the youngsters and have cut back on discipline along with keeping up the machismo.

      These people from King’s will go on to lead New Zealand.
      Like the national anthem goes,
      “God Defend New Zealand”…!

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