Now, I wonder if this has any relation to the article I quoted earlier this week.

—Frecklesteens drinking


Texas teens among ‘nation’s worst’

They’re drinking, having sex at rates higher than U.S. average, report says

Friday, November 17, 2006

Texas teens are significantly more likely to have sex, drink alcohol and
drive drunk than their peers nationwide, according to a report being
released today.

The report, Kids Count, a national and state-by-state effort to track children’s well-being, does show some improvements for Texas teens: Fewer students are dropping out of school, for example.

But “when it comes to risky behaviors, Texas teens are among the nation’s worst,” said Frances Deviney, Texas director for Kids Count, which corrals data collected by various groups.

The Kids Count report, citing a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention survey, says that in 2005:

teen girl drinking•52.5 percent of Texas high schoolers had sexual intercourse, compared with 46.8 percent nationwide.

•29.6 percent of Texas youth engaged in “episodic heavy drinking,” compared with 25.5 percent nationwide.

•15.4 percent of Texas youth drove a car under the influence of alcohol, compared with 9.9 percent nationwide.

•37 percent of Texas youth rode with someone who had been drinking, compared with 28.5 percent nationwide.

A survey done four years earlier found similar results in Texas. But in the ensuing years, teens across the country became less likely to drink heavily and drive under the influence of alcohol, while Texas rates stayed about the same.

girl smoking pot marijuanaSusan McDowell, executive director of LifeWorks, which provides a network of services to youth and families in Austin, said that Texas’ high child poverty rate and an education system that lags behind other states’ contribute to problems as
children become teenagers.

“We’re investing less in children in Texas,” she said. “We shouldn’t be surprised that as they grow up, they’re more prone to risky behavior.”

The study did not show how Central Texas teens compared to the state data. But Tracy Lunoff, coordinator of health for the Austin Independent School District, said
surveys show the district’s “students aren’t engaging in such risky behaviors.” For example, pregnancy rates decreased last year, compared with the previous school year, as did the number of middle school and high school students disciplined for tobacco, drug and alcohol use, she said.

However, a 2006 report on the district’s Web site shows that since 1996, the district’s eighth, 10th- and 12-graders have used alcohol as much or more than their peers statewide and have used marijuana more.

Reagan High School sophomore Jesse Martinez, 15, said fellow classmates often give in to peer pressure.

“They don’t want to seem like a punk around their friends, so they do something to fit in,” he said. “People try so hard to fit in that it’s not surprising that people want to get in cars with people who have been drinking or drink just to seem cool.”

Since last year, Martinez has participated in a support program for teenage boys called XY-Zone, which is run by Communities in Schools-Central Texas Inc. at five Austin high schools, one Austin middle school and Georgetown High School. Through the program, he said he’s learned it’s important to say no to drugs and to avoid having sex until later in life. He said he’s not participating in risky behaviors now. Before the program, he was “so-so” at avoiding such behaviors.

Communities in Schools-Central Texas CEO Suki Steinhauser said the nearly
eight-year-old program, which has expanded beyond its original mission of pregnancy prevention, is working. Last school year, 69 percent of participants in the XY-Zone decreased their participation in sexual activity, fighting, drug and alcohol use and riding in a vehicle with someone under the influence, according to an independent evaluation, she said.

“They begin to see themselves as leaders with something to contribute rather than kids who are always getting into trouble,” said Mike Hurewitz, senior program coordinator at Communities in Schools.

McDowell of LifeWorks said it’s important to invest early and substantially in the overall health of children in order for them to avoid risky behaviors as they become teenagers. She said many of the teens LifeWorks meets didn’t have a consistent, responsible adult in their childhood who made sure they were making healthy choices.

“The question we have to ask ourselves in Texas is: ‘Are we providing kids the tools that they need to avoid risky behaviors?’ ” McDowell said. “In many cases in Texas, we struggle with that.”

Other findingsMap of Central Texas

•The high school dropout rate in Travis County declined 58.6 percent from 2000 to 2005. In the class of 2005, 354 teens in the county (4.8 percent) dropped out between ninth grade and graduation. The dropout rate in Texas declined by 40 percent in the same period.

•Child poverty in Texas has increased for the fourth straight year. That means
there are more Texas children living in families below the federal poverty threshold ($19,971 for a family of four in 2005).

•Texas continues to have the highest rate of uninsured children in the nation.

Source: Kids Count State of Texas Children 2006; 512 445-3548


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