Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Sex, Drugs, and Drinking for Teens in Chicago

Attention Chicago parents: The majority of teenagers in the city (56.9 percent) have already had sexual intercourse and 4 out of 10 are currently sexually active.

At least they’re taking precautions: Almost three-quarters of adolescent boys are using condoms and more than 1 in 10 girls is on the birth control pill.

Chicago boys are certainly starting sex early. A surprising 18.7 percent report having intercourse for the first time before age 13, compared with 5.8 percent of girls.

They’re also playing the field. More than one-quarter of teenage boys in the city report having four or more sexual partners by the end of high school, compared with 10.7 percent of girls.

The data come from the newest version of the Youth Risk Behavior Survey, a comprehensive assessment of teenagers in 9th to 12th grade compiled every two years by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The report, incorporating data from 2007, was released this morning.

It contains good news as well as bad. Since the first survey in 1991, more teens are using seat belts, fewer are smoking and drinking alcohol, and fewer are smoking marijuana or having sex. Those are very positive developments.

But the decline in percentage of teens having sex has stalled over the last seven years, as has the number of teens using condoms. With the rise of abstinence-only education, fewer teens are learning about AIDS or HIV infections in school. And more are obese.

One of the most worrisome trends is the alarming degree of sadness and despair among Hispanic youth. Nationally, an astonishing 42.3 percent of Hispanic girls reported feeling “sad or hopeless” as did 30.4 percent of Hispanic boys, exceeding figures for black and white teens.

Twenty-one percent of Hispanic girls said they had “seriously considered attempting suicide” and 14 percent actually attempted suicide – again, the highest of any ethnic group. By contrast, 10.7 percent of Hispanic boys said they’d thought seriously about killing themselves and 6.3 percent actually tried.

“This is a very scary and a very, very serious problem,” said Aida Giachello, director of the Midwest Latino Health Research, Training, and Policy Center in Chicago.

Many factors may be hitting Hispanic girls hard, including poverty, low self-esteem, pressure to join gangs, parents who work multiple jobs and are often absent from the home, and conflict between traditional Hispanic family values and the norms present in the broader American society, she suggested.

Being caught between two cultures can foster tremendous tension and be a “tremendous burden” for Hispanic youth, said Glenn Flores, professor of pediatrics and public health at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas.

For Chicagoans, other findings of note in the CDC report include:

* For all the talk about drinking and driving, 31.5 percent of teen girls and 26.9 percent of teen boys in Chicago report riding in a car or another vehicle with a driver who’d been consuming alcohol.

* Chicago teens are drinking alcohol: 38.9 percent currently and 71.4 percent at some point in high school.

* They’re also smoking pot. Almost 22 percent of Chicago kids say they’re current users and 44 percent have tried marijuana since entering high school.

* More than 1 in every 10 Chicago teens (11.3 percent) report being forced to have sexual intercourse. The figure was exactly the same for boys and girls.

* Overall, 30 percent of Chicago teens say they feel sad or hopeless, above the national average. Just over 10 percent try to commit suicide, but only a fraction of these cases end up being treated by a doctor or a nurse.

* Your kids are couch potatoes. A whopping 45.2 percent of Chicago teens say they watch TV for three or more hours every day; 21.6 percent say they spend three or more hours on the computer.

No comments: