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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: 22.3%).

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 reduction."

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 your business."

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