Those Risk-Taking Teens

When reading about how teenagers behave, one is amazed that most of them live to see age 20. That’s certainly true of the latest Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, using data for 2001. Nineteen percent of 9th to 12th graders seriously considered suicide in the 12 months before being polled. In the 30 days before being queried, 31 percent rode in a car with a driver who’d been drinking, 47 percent consumed alcohol, 17 percent carried a weapon and 24 percent used marijuana. While 14 percent said they’d had four or more sexual partners in their lives, just 58 percent of sexually active respondents used a condom during their most recent intercourse. (As if all that weren’t enough, a mere 21 percent were eating the recommended five servings of fruits and vegetables per day!) Was 2001 a particularly bad year? On the contrary: Most of these numbers represent a marked improvement from the early 1990s. A separate study, by the Annenberg Public Policy Center, noted that young folks tend to engage in clusters of risky behavior. Surveying 14-22-year-olds in relation to cigarettes, marijuana, alcohol and gambling, the report found 49 percent had indulged in one of these vices in the previous 30 days, 25 percent had engaged in at least two and 10 percent in at least three. Can we hope that the reprobates are regarded as losers by other young people? No such luck. The Annenberg study asked respondents whether they think “popular kids” or “unpopular kids” are the more likely to indulge in various risky behaviors. Respondents were far more likely to associate alcohol use with popular kids than with unpopular ones (57 percent vs. 9 percent, with the rest saying there’s no link either way). The same went for marijuana (39 percent “popular” vs. 20 percent “unpopular”) and cigarettes (also 39 percent “popular” and 20 percent “unpopular”). Owning a gun was one of the few behaviors more associated with unpopular kids (by 43 percent of respondents) than with the popular ilk (16 percent).