Negotiating High School

Article excerpt

Byline: The Register-Guard

Anyone who believes teenagers have it easy these days should think again. In addition to dealing with school, changes in physical and mental development, pressures from adults to conform and their fluctuating hormones, teenagers have a multitude of things to learn - and to worry about.

That's clear from reading the latest Youth Risk Behavior Survey from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The 2011 survey asked 86 questions of more than 15,000 high school students nationwide dealing with violence, tobacco use, drug use, sexual behavior, diet and physical inactivity. Participation was anonymous and voluntary and required the permission of parents or guardians.

Forty-three states took part in the survey, not including Oregon, which does its own youth behavior surveys. Its last, in 2010, collected more than 15,000 responses from sixth-, eighth- and 11-graders at more than 450 schools. While many of the Oregon Student Wellness Survey percentages were lower than those in the national report, the trends were similar.

News reports on the CDC survey focused on high-visibility issues such as a decline in the percentage of teenagers who said they drank alcohol while driving in the month prior to taking the survey - from 17 percent in 1997 to 8 percent last year - and the percentage who said they had texted or e-mailed at least once while driving within the previous 30 days, a worrisome 33 percent, and 60 percent for 12th-grade boys.

Probably the most surprising result was that more teenagers admitted to smoking marijuana, 23 percent, than to smoking cigarettes (18 percent), a trend that's cause for both concern and relief. Other favorable trends included declines in the percentage who said they had carried a weapon to school (now less than a third) and currently use alcohol (down from about half to 39 percent).

Not-so-favorable statistics included more than a third of all teenagers reporting they were sexually active, from about one in five in the ninth grade to close to half in the 12th grade. Of those, more than 60 percent said they used condoms, which was good news given that people age 15 through 19 now account for more than 400,000 U.S. births each year and more than a half-million cases of sexually-transmitted diseases.

Some statistics have been resistant to change since the surveys began in 1991. …