Whatever Else You Think Of Teens, You Can’t Say They’re Overcautious

Who says teenagers are always reckless? Last year, students in grades 9-12 were more likely to eat five daily servings of fruits and vegetables (22 percent did so) than to have had four or more sexual partners in their lives (14.4 percent). And while 30.2 percent had recently ridden in a car with a driver who’d been drinking, just 18.2 percent seldom or never wear seat belts. These and a ton of other statistics come from the 2003 Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System report, published this month by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The report notes a decline since 1991 in several categories of misbehavior. But the incidence of risky activity remains high.

On the forbidden-substance front, the number of kids who said they’ve ever consumed alcohol fell to 75 percent last year, vs. 82 percent in 1991. Still, 45.8 percent of girls and 43.8 percent of boys had knocked back at least one drink in the 30 days before being queried; 27.5 percent of girls and 29 percent of boys had consumed five or more drinks in a row on at least one occasion during that period. While smoking has abated (after having risen during much of the 1990s), 21.9 percent of girls and 21.8 percent of boys were classified as current cigarette users. As for marijuana, 19.3 percent of girls and 25.1 percent of boys had smoked it at least once in the 30 days before being questioned. Fewer had used cocaine (3.5 percent of girls, 4.6 percent of boys).

With a bit of cross-referencing, we can deduce that some students get vigorous exercise that does not consist of having sex: 55 percent of girls and 70 percent of boys said they’d engaged in “vigorous physical activity” on at least three of the seven days prior to being polled. By contrast, a mere 45.3 percent of girls and 48 percent of boys reported having had sexual intercourse at least once in their lives. The figures don’t do much, though, to support the talk of a boomlet in teen chastity. Among kids in the 12th grade, 62.3 percent of girls and 60.7 percent of boys said they’d had sex. And one-fifth of 12th-graders (17.9 percent of girls, 22.2 percent of boys) said they’d had least four sexual partners.

The report indicates that while teens are prone to violence, they’re inept at inflicting it on each other. One-third of students—25.1 percent of girls, 40.5 percent of boys—said they’d been in a physical fight at least once in the past 12 months. But just 2.6 percent of girls and 5.7 percent of boys sustained injuries that required the attention of a nurse or doctor. Few girls supplement their fists with a gun, as 1.6 percent reported having carried one in the 30 days prior to the survey. For boys, the figure was an alarming 10.2 percent.