Turnabout in Teen Behavior: Smoking Less, Texting While Driving More

Parents worried about the cloud of smoke hanging over their teens’ heads can breathe a little easier. Teen smoking is at its lowest level in years, according to a new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). But this type of risky behavior may have been traded for another, equally deadly one: texting while driving. The CDC reports that teen smoking is at its lowest level since 1991, when the federal government first starting collecting such data in the National Youth Risk Behavior Survey (YRBS). Fewer than 16 percent of teens smoked a cigarette in the past month, compared to 27 percent in 1991, according to the latest report.

What Caused Teen Smoking Rates to Plummet?

Experts say that the prevalence and consistency of anti-smoking campaigns have been very effective in curbing teen smoking rates. Changing norms are another factor. All told, the percentage of high school students using tobacco has dropped dramatically from its 1997 high of 36.4 percent to 15.7 percent in 2013. Teen smoking certainly hasn’t halted, though, with about 2.7 million teens smoking, and remains an area of concern for parents and caregivers, along with other risky behaviors. “Way too many young people still smoke, and other areas such as texting while driving remain a challenge,” said Dr. Tom Frieden, CDC director.

Teen Driver Texting Behavior Surges

The dangers of texting and emailing while driving are driven home by the sobering study findings:

  • 41 percent of students nationwide who had driven a vehicle during the past 30 days said they had texted or emailed while driving.
  • As many as 61 percent of high school drivers in some of the 37 states in the YRBS admitted to texting while driving during the month prior (ranging from 32 percent in Massachusetts to 61 percent in South Dakota).
  • White teens (46.7 percent of girls and 45 percent of boys) had the highest rates of texting while driving, compared with 36 percent and 29.1 percent of Latino and African American teens, respectively.

Alcohol Consumption and Driving/Riding

The YRBS also looked at teen alcohol consumption prior to driving or riding with others. Some 10 percent of teens surveyed reported having driven a car one or more times after drinking alcohol in the 30 days prior to the survey. Nearly 22 percent of high school students said they’d been passengers in a vehicle driven by a teen who had consumed alcohol.

Fighting Down

Other encouraging news is that teen fighting has decreased. The percentage of high school students who had been in a physical fight at least once in the past year dropped from 42 percent in 1991 to 25 percent in 2013. Fights occurring on school property have also gone down, dropping 50 percent during the past two decades. Surveyed students admitting to being in at least one physical fight on school property during the past year fell from 16 percent in 1993 to 8 percent in 2013.

Sexual Behavior Holding Steady, But Some Good News

The CDC says that the proportion of sexually active teens has remained consistent over the past two decades, but the proportion of teens having intercourse before the age of 13 (5.6 percent) and teens that have had four or more partners (15 percent) have steadily decreased.

Other Report Findings

Data points from the report highlight other areas of teen behavior and how it is changing:

  • More than 23 percent of teens reported using marijuana in the previous month, up from 15 percent in 1991.
  • 3 hours+ of TV watching by teens during a school day decreased from 43 percent in 1999 to 32 percent in 2013.
  • Drinking one or more soft drinks/day dropped from 34 percent (2007) to 27 percent (2013).
  • 3 or more hours in front of a computer daily (for non-school work) almost doubled: from 22 percent in 2003 to 41 percent in 2013.
  • 14.8 percent of high school students surveyed said they’d been cyber bullied in the past year (through texts, emails, websites or chat rooms).

How does your teen’s behavior measure up?

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