SANTA CLARA COUNTY: Survey Reveals ‘Alarming’ Behavior Among Teens
Teenagers in "affluent and educated" Santa Clara are increasingly engaging in high-risk behaviors at a younger age, reveals "the first comprehensive" survey of students in grades 7-12. The survey of 7,000 students, conducted by the Santa Clara Department of Public Health in partnership with the State Department of Education, found that 31% of respondents had engaged in sexual intercourse. Of those, 25% had four or more partners and more than 30% said they used no birth control. By the 12th grade, nearly half reported they had had intercourse, and almost 10% of middle school students -- preteens, for the most part -- reported having had sexual intercourse (Krieger, San Jose Mercury News, 9/21). Seth Ammerman, an assistant clinical professor in Stanford University's department of adolescent medicine, called the results "worrisome but hardly shocking given that today's youth are bombarded with more media images, have less parental supervision and are maturing at a faster rate than ever before. ... Those factors, combined with adolescents' yearning for adulthood, can result in experiences with sex, drugs and alcohol before a youth is ready." Ammerman has run a mobile medical clinic for homeless youths since 1996 (Lynem, San Francisco Chronicle, 9/21).
Cigarettes, Drugs, Alcohol ... and Suicide
The survey also revealed high rates of alcohol, inhalant, cigarette and drug use. Nearly 57% of respondents had smoked cigarettes and about 25% of high schoolers had smoked in the last month. One-third of middle schoolers had smoked. About 66% of respondents reported having had "at least one drink of alcohol in their lifetime." More than half of middle schoolers "had tried drinking alcohol," more than one-third of high schoolers had had a drink in the previous month and about a quarter had gone on a "binge" in the previous month, consuming "five or more drinks on one occasion." Almost 40% of all respondents had tried marijuana and 14% of middle schoolers had done so. Almost 10% had tried cocaine, with 3.6% of middle schoolers having done so. Perhaps most troubling of all, 22.3% of respondents said they had seriously considered committing suicide within the last year, and 18% said they had gone so far as to actually plan the suicide (Mercury News, 9/21).
What to Do?
Ammerman said, "It's incumbent upon parents to check in with their kids on an ongoing basis. They need to assess their child's feelings, know who their friends are and what they're doing in spare time. They shouldn't just assume that their kids are OK." On an up note, Natishia Bracy, who coordinates a teen pregnancy program in San Jose, said, "There are a lot of African American and Latino youths who are not having sex and who are not on drugs. We recognize that pregnancy rates in certain cultures are not where they need to be, but we know successful programs are out there and they work (Chronicle, 9/21). The survey is being called "a major new benchmark ... that will be used to help decide how to encourage healthy behavior." Dr. Guadalupe Olivas, director of the Public Health Department, said, "This report is a valuable tool for health officials, educators and others about the welfare of our children. It provides baseline information that will help us target resources where they are most needed" (Mercury News, 9/21).