Teens’ Sexual Decisions Based Mainly on School Performance, Friends
School performance and peer groups are the "top predictors" of teens' high-risk behaviors, such as sexual activity, according to the most recent findings from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health, or "Add Health," released at a press conference yesterday. The Washington Times reports that although poverty, single-parent homes and minority status have long been thought to "predispose children to a difficult adolescence," study results reveal that teens' "immediate environment" of school and friends is a much more significant contributor to high-risk activities. Director of the University of Minnesota's adolescent health program Dr. Robert Blum, who released the survey findings, called it a "911 call" about the importance of school and parental oversight of children. Surgeon General David Satcher spoke at the press conference via videotape, saying that "dangerous behaviors are not solely the problems of minority and low-income teens. These problems are everyone's problems." Add Health, the first U.S. study on what influences teens to become involved with tobacco, alcohol, suicide, weapon-related violence and sexual intercourse, is based on interviews with 20,000 students and 18,000 parents. The survey found that most teens avoid risky behaviors, but while 84% of young teens have avoided sexual intercourse, sexual activity "increased with age." By the 11th and 12th grades, only 40% of teens have not engaged in intercourse. Risk factors for sexual activity were found to be frequent kissing or necking; being in a romantic relationship in the previous 18 months; considering sex to be "beneficial;" confidence about one's knowledge of birth control and having friends who drink. The survey revealed that factors preventing against teen sex included making a virginity pledge; viewing sex as "costly;" having college plans and parental disapproval. The Add Health study will be published in next month's American Journal of Public Health (Wetzstein, Washington Times, 12/1).This is part of the KHN Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.