Monday, February 27, 2006

43% of Arizona Teens Having Sex

43% of Arizona teens having sex
By Mary K. Reinhart, Tribune

February 27, 2006

A federal survey of risky teen behavior shows that Arizona high schoolers seem to think they’re immortal. Nearly half of them are having sex and drinking alcohol, and one-quarter are smoking pot.

One third have ridden in a car with someone who’s been drinking, and one in five have recently carried a gun, knife or club.

Most aren’t wearing bicycle helmets or eating their fruits and vegetables.

But while the latest statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show what some may consider typical teen behavior, questions about depression and suicide reveal a much darker side.

According to the 2005 survey of 3,300 Arizona high school students, one-fifth have seriously considered suicide in the past 12 months, 16 percent have made a plan and 12 percent have actually tried to kill themselves. The statistics for girls are even higher, though boys are far more likely to commit suicide.

“That’s pretty serious,” said Ilene Dode, CEO of EMPACT, a Tempe-based suicide prevention and mental health agency. “I think people need to be concerned, and looking at what kind of steps we should be taking.”

Twenty-seven Arizona children took their lives in 2004, most of them boys.

A state suicide prevention program has been taking shape over the past couple of years.

Last fall, Arizona received a $400,000 federal grant to boost prevention efforts in rural and tribal communities, including a screening program to identify at-risk teens.

Bills to suspend the program have been introduced in the Legislature this session.

A suicide screening survey is used at Tempe’s Compadre High School, a campus for at risk kids that also includes a program for pregnant and parenting teens.

Though the latest CDC survey shows that the majority of Arizona teens who are sexually active use condoms or other forms of birth control, about 6 percent say they’ve been pregnant or gotten someone pregnant.

“I’m getting eighth graders,” said Julie Lessard, who runs the Adolescent Pregnancy and Parenting Program at Compadre. “They’re teenagers, and they just think it’s not going to happen to them, no matter what.”

More than 5,100 Arizona teenage girls gave birth in 2004, said Patricia Jo Angelini, executive director of the Arizona Coalition on Adolescent Pregnancy and Parenting.

The survey gives parents, educators and policymakers an opportunity to talk with children about risky behaviors, she said.

“We need to not just read the data, we need to act on the data,” Angelini said. “This is a really good teachable moment. . . . For parents to sit down with their children, and let them know that they are loved and that their parents are concerned about them.”

Too many children don’t have those kinds of adults in their lives, said Mike Matwick, executive director of the Arizona Career Academy and Pinnacle Education, which has campuses throughout Phoenix and the East Valley.

Matwick said he wasn’t surprised by the survey finding that one-third of students felt so sad for two weeks straight that they stopped doing their usual activities.

“I don’t think a lot of kids have a safe place to go or people to talk to when they’re feeling that way,” he said. “Whenever a kid is experiencing significant social issues, they can’t engage in academics.”

This is only the second survey for Arizona, though the CDC has been collecting data for other states since 1991.

Former state school superintendents had blocked the survey, administered through the state Department of Education.

In addition to questions about sexual behavior, drug and alcohol use, it asks students about their diet, exercise and exposure to violence.


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