Teen Risk Behaviors Bad, but Better
Survey Shows Downward Trend in Most Behaviors That Threaten Teen Life, Health
Best States/Cities, Worst States/Cities
In some cases, the overall numbers conceal states and localities where teen
behavior is much better -- and much worse -- than average:
- 62.2% of Kentucky kids have tried smoking cigarettes, compared with
only 24.9% of Utah teens (national average: 50.3%).
- 34.5% of West Virginia teens use tobacco products, compared with only 8.9%
of kids in Vermont (national average: 25.7%).
- 44.7% of Alaska teens have tried marijuana, compared with only 17.4% of
Kentucky kids (national average: 38.1%)
- 90.8% of kids in New York attend physical education classes at least once a
week vs. 28.4% of kids in South Dakota (national average: 53.6%).
- 49.7% of Baltimore teens are sexually active, compared with 17.5% of San
Francisco teens (national average: 35%).
- 39.2% of ninth to 12th graders in Dallas have been offered, sold, or given
an illegal drug, compared with 13.5% of teens in Baltimore (national average:
Wechsler says the survey data don't show exactly why teens in some areas
take fewer health risks than teens in other areas. But he says that state and
local efforts to reduce specific risk behaviors pay off. He points to
anti-tobacco efforts as an example.
"One thing that is instructive is the tremendous difference in resources
different states put into this," Wechsler says. "In some states, teen
tobacco use is much lower than the national rate. And we see this in exactly
those states where they have made substantial investments in tobacco
Even Good Teens Take Risks -- What Parents Must Do
If none of this sounds like your teenager, listen to Nancy Cahir, PhD, a
child/adolescent/adult psychologist in private practice in Atlanta.
"What I have seen in my practice is even parents who think it couldn't
happen to their child -- well, it can," Cahir tells WebMD. "Even with
the 'perfect child,' there may be hidden issues; even in good families, bad
things can happen. There is no discrimination when it comes to high-risk
behavior for teens."
Parents have a responsibility to involve themselves in their children's
lives, Cahir says. They cannot assume their teen is doing fine because they
haven't had calls from the school or because their teen's grades are good.
"Parents, I say stay close to your children. Know your kids the way you
know your best friend, and keep in touch with them," she says. "Spend
time with them, know their friends, and know the parents of the children your
children hang out with. Say to them every day, 'Did you have a difficult day?
What's going on with you? How are you doing?'"
It's probably not news that teens can be moody, even surly at times. Your
teen may respond to your inquiries with something like, "My life is none of