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Promiscuity: another teenage myth

I know that some adults get a little squeamish when the words sex and teens are used in the same sentence. Relax, you are about to hear some good news!

The use of illicit drugs has been declining among youth since the 1990s. Two years ago, the teen pregnancy rate was at a 60 year low for 15-19-year-olds. Last year there was an uptick in teen pregnancy, the first increase in more than ten years. Smoking and smokeless tobacco use has declined and youth crime has declined nationally for 11 years successively.

In spite of these dramatic declines, many adults still insist that youth are careening wildly out of control. Adults in the national spotlight continue to make patently irresponsible statements about youth that lack credibility. The national media, complicit in the mugging, have been so successful at perpetrating the out of control teenager myth that at least some teens buy in to the same myriad of myths about youth that some adults do.

As an anecdotal measure, I frequently ask youth groups that I work with about their risk taking behaviors compared to previous generations. Invariably, they maintain that their generation is the worst. When I tell them that they are actually much more conservative when compared to previous generations they are remarkably surprised and amused.

Opinion leaders like Oprah and Tyra Banks have focused on what they consider an "epidemic" of promiscuity. The truth is that fewer than half of all high school students have had sex. In 2007, 47.8 percent of all students reported being sexually active. This figure represents an 8 percent decline in the rate since 1991.

Many teens are delaying sexual activity, so says a report from the Department of Health and Human Services. According to the study, 30 percent of 15-17 year old girls were sexually active compared to 38 percent in 1995. The same study found that the percentage of sexually active boys had declined from 43 percent to 31 percent during the same period. The rates also went down for younger teenagers too. In 1995, 20 percent said they had become sexually active before age 15. By 2002, that figure had dropped to 13 percent for girls and 15 percent for boys.

Some say that these reductions are a result of better supervision by what is described by some as hovering or "helicopter" parents. Increases in television watching and internet time means less discretionary time is available to teens. "Hooking up requires discretionary time and a lack of supervision" and as parental supervision increases while discretionary time is eroded, further decreases may be expected. Remember, all kids count.

Scot Hurlburt can be reached by e-mail at hurlburt@wildblue.net

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