LONDON — BRITAIN'S rising generation of youngsters are healthier and will live longer than their parents, and are less likely to commit crimes than children 10 years ago.
But one-quarter of 15-year-olds are regular smokers, most have tried alcohol, and one in seven has experimented with drugs.
Details of the lifestyles, personal preferences, and future expectations of the country's 12 million citizens under age 16 are contained in a Central Statistical Office survey. Its authors claim it is the most comprehensive of its kind ever undertaken in Britain.
It says that males have a life expectancy of 74 years, females 79 - in both cases 12 years longer than half a century ago.
The ``snapshot'' of British children emerging from Social Focus on Children (from Her Majesty's Stationery Office) is more attractive and raises higher hopes about the coming generation than much news media coverage of youthful behavior would suggest.
The survey says that youths who cause profound concern to the adult community belong to a small minority. The number of criminal offenders aged 10 to 16 fell by more than one-third between 1981 and 1992.
But over the same period, children have become more likely to be victims of adult crime. Child-abduction offenses rose from 45 to 206 a year. Offenses of gross indecency with a child more than doubled from 511 to 1,158.
Home Secretary Michael Howard, commenting last week on the survey, said there was ``much in it that is encouraging about today's young people,'' but added that information on drug and alcohol abuse and on patterns of youthful crime ``points to the need for stronger discipline by parents and teachers.''
The survey has prompted calls for firmer measures to prevent drug abuse by youngsters.
Health Department officials say government ministers and police chiefs are working on a ``start early'' approach, with children as young as five to be given compulsory lessons warning of the dangers.
The officials say Prime Minister John Major will personally spearhead the campaign. It will include calls to parents to be more active in telling children about the hazards of drug abuse.
Instead of concentrating on attempts to limit the supply of drugs, the government will try to reduce demand.
Griffith Edwards, a member of the government's advisory council on the misuse of drugs, says the survey shows that shock tactics have largely failed to convince young people that they should resist the temptation of trying drugs.
One of the most hopeful statistics in the survey concerns the relationship between parents and children. Far from providing evidence that the nuclear family is on the way out, with the number of broken marriages and single-parent families sharply escalating, the survey confirms that four out of every five children live in two-parent families.
Only 3 percent of children interviewed said their parents did not care whether they did well at school. Seven out of 10 British children use a library at least once a week, and 99 percent have had hands-on experience on computers.
There is plenty of evidence, too, that Britain's children accept the need to protect the environment. About 90 percent of all children regard deforestation, polluted oceans, and damage to the earth's ozone layer as major issues for governments and individual citizens to confront. Slightly lower percentages are concerned about litter, traffic fumes, and oil and sewage on beaches.
Although today's British youngsters have a high awareness of environmental issues, they form a smaller proportion of the population - 20 percent, compared with 30 percent in 1911.
The size of families is shrinking rapidly. Twenty years ago there were at least three children in two out of five families. Today, three out of four families have no more than two children.
Surprise, surprise: Television is the most popular recreation. The average child watches three hours a day.
Pocket money, according to the survey, is at a record high of 2 pounds ($3) a week, and a quarter of all children over 11 have some kind of job to supplement it.