Thursday, March 31, 2011

Journalist Says "Kids Truly Are All Right"

(CNN) -- Stop anyone on the street who looks, say, older than 40, and ask whether teenagers are doing better or worse than a decade or two ago. Odds are she or he will say worse -- and be wrong.

Hollywood writer and director Lisa Cholodenko was correct: The kids are all right. In fact, according to a massive study released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, teenagers are doing better on a bunch of important measures, even as they've increased in number and diversity.

Every time I talk to parents, I am moved by how few know this. Or, if they've read about it, how they don't believe it. Peter Benson, president of the Search Institute, a youth development think tank, also runs into this skepticism.

"If we did a poll of American parents," he says, "and asked, 'How many times have you seen research about adolescent pregnancy showing that kids are being more responsible?' the vast majority would say, 'I've never seen that.' But if you ask them how many times they've seen stories about kids sexting pornography, they'll say, 'I see something on that every day.' "

Few measures of teen well-being are as remarkable as the decline in teenage girls getting pregnant and giving birth. According to a newly released study by the National Center for Health Statistics, 39 of every 1,000 girls ages 15-19 gave birth in 2009, a historic low. Experts attribute this in large part to the wider availability of information about, and access to, reliable contraception as well as a small decline in the proportion of teens having sex.

Other positive markers are found in the CDC's 2010 report. Since 1990:

• The proportion of high school students who smoke has declined, and so has the proportion of those who drink.

Few measures of teen well-being are as remarkable as the decline in teenage girls getting pregnant and giving birth.

• Fewer underage teenagers are driving. Fewer teenagers drive while drinking or ride with drivers who are drinking. More students report wearing seatbelts and significantly fewer are involved in fatal car crashes.

• Firearm-related deaths have declined. So has the percentage of high school students who fight or carry a weapon.

• The percent of high school students who have seriously considered suicide has declined. So has the proportion of suicides.

One serious problem, according to the CDC, is that more teens are getting fatter. A lot fatter. But aside from that, they appear to be taking better care of themselves than the generation that preceded them.

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