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Study bolsters reputation of Swiss youth

Youngsters are more industrious than they are given credit for

(Keystone)

Young Swiss are far more industrious and socially adept than they are given credit for, say the authors of a youth development study.

The report, published on Wednesday, comes at a time of widespread concern over the nation's youth following a number of alleged rape cases involving juveniles.

The Zurich University research found that young Swiss between the ages of six and 21 display emotional maturity and responsibility, despite a public perception of laziness and bad behaviour.

It is the first psychological and social survey of child and youth behaviour in Switzerland and was based on in-depth interviews with 3,000 subjects aged six, 15 and 21.

Researchers at the university's Jacobs Center for Productive Youth Development will continue to track the younger age groups until they reach 21.

The first results revealed that six-year-old boys and girls have the same level of emotional development. But girls pulled clear of boys by the time they reached 15, and maintained this lead at 21.

According to Marlis Buchmann of the Jacobs Foundation, this can be explained by a desire among male youths to appear "cool" during their teenage years while their female counterparts are more disposed to be industrious.

The survey team was also surprised to discover that family ties continue to play an important part in development even in later years. The quality of relationships among peers also takes on a more significant role from adolescence.

Bad reputation

The reputation of Swiss youngsters has taken a battering this year with several high profile allegations of rape involving youths.

Police in Zurich are holding several minors in custody following a complaint that a 12-year-old girl was raped by a gang of a dozen youths aged between 15 and 18.

Further allegations of a similar nature from cantons St Gallen, Bern and Graubünden have resulted in more negative press for young people in Switzerland.

But Buchmann believes these incidents have been taken out of proportion.

"The problem with highlighting individual cases is that they get exaggerated by the media, which generalises all young people and creates a negative stereotype," the professor told swissinfo.

"Of course there are young people with problems in Switzerland, but they do not represent the average youth."

Buchmann said the results of the study should go some way towards dispelling fears that there is a problem with youths in Switzerland.

"The people we talked to overwhelmingly displayed the qualities needed for tolerant interaction between people," she said.

"These qualities and others are important prerequisites for integrating properly into society."

swissinfo, Matthew Allen in Zurich

In brief

The Cocon Swiss Survey of Children and Youth is an ongoing study of the emotional, social and psychological development of young people in Switzerland.

The ages of six, 15 and 21 were chosen because they represent times of transitional change, such as starting school, beginning professional training and entering professional life.

The survey was funded by the Swiss National Science Foundation.

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