Youth Risk Survey: Risky behavior down, while anxiety up
By Hub City Times staff
MARSHFIELD – A survey says fewer Wisconsin high school students participate in underage drinking than in previous years.
The Wisconsin Youth Risk Behavior Survey studies high school students every two years for topics including sexual activity, school safety, drug use, and alcohol use.
Thirty percent of students who responded to last year’s survey admitted to drinking, compared to nearly 50 percent 20 years ago. About 16 percent of students reported binge drinking, while almost 65 percent said they’ve tried alcohol at least once.
Many Wisconsin communities have recently passed ordinances that fine parents for allowing parties where underage drinking occurs.
Julia Sherman is the coordinator of the Wisconsin Alcohol Policy Project. She says some community coalitions are distributing refrigerator locks to prevent teenagers from accessing alcohol.
While drinking, rates of sexual activity, smoking, and marijuana use are all dropping, students are sleeping fewer hours, they’re on their devices more, and are more likely to feel sad or hopeless.
Marshfield School Superintendent Dee Wells says kids are generally a lot more anxious these days.
“It’s not labeled as ‘Here is an anxious moment for you.’ It’s labeled as whatever the headings of the day are,” said Wells. “So, I think there is a lot more anxiety in our world. I think that information travels very quickly – sometimes it’s accurate, sometimes it’s not – and young people in particular don’t have the best filters for filtering out accurate, versus inaccurate, information – which leads to even more anxiety.”
Nearly 50 percent of girls and 30 percent of boys report anxiety in the new report. While students generally feel safer at school than in the past, there’s a small, but growing group that rarely feels safe at school. Wells says it’s a trend she and others have seen, but lacks actual acknowledgement; however, she said that is slowly changing.
“Unfortunately, sometimes it takes a developing crisis to create a high sense of urgency where, then, that is acknowledged,” she said. “So, I see it right now at our state level – an acknowledgment. In our district, we’ve acknowledged that by increasing school counselors at every building. We have really paid close attention to any complaints about our bullying policies and how they are being implemented. We take seriously complaints about school threats.”
While Wells said that much is being done to address these needs, there is still room for growth.