Study: Suburban teens at risk
February 9, 2004
by Andrea Eger and Jay Cooper, World Staff Writers
They are as likely, if not more so, to succumb to high-risk behaviors as their inner-city counterparts.
Parents who think they can shield their teenagers from the dangers of sex, drugs and alcohol in the suburbs need to think again, according to a new national study.
The study from the Manhattan Institute for Policy Research found that alcohol, tobacco and illegal drug use and sex are just as common -- if not more common -- among suburban high school students as they are among city students.
Researchers at the Manhattan Institute, a nonprofit education think tank, based their study on the findings of one of the most comprehensive federal surveys of teenage behavior.
A nationally representative sample of more than 20,000 students were surveyed on three separate occasions between 1995 and 2002.
Among the results:
Two-thirds of all suburban and urban 12th-graders have had sex.
The number of students who had sex outside of a romantic relationship was slightly higher among suburban 12th-grade students with 43 percent, compared to 39 percent among urban 12th-graders.
Suburban 12th-graders are more likely to drink and drive than their urban counterparts.
The study results may debunk the myths that have led some American parents to flee with their children to the suburbs for the last several decades, but the results were not news to local teenagers.
"No matter where you go to school you're always going to be with teenagers and there's always going to be peer pressure," Union High School junior Layne Horton said.
Union High School counselor Debbie Weber said she was not surprised by the survey's results, as all suburban and urban high schoolers face the same issues and pressures.
"I don't think there's a place you could go where they're not going to face the same temptations from peers. I wish there was," she said.
Weber said one of the main reasons there is such a high rate of teens having sex or trying drugs and alcohol is because students these days have less supervision from parents.
That does not change in the urban or suburban house setting, she said.
"There's some peer pressure, but kids have a lot of free, unsupervised time," Weber said. "A lot of people are from single homes or if not, they're from homes where two people are working."
Natasha Oden, a senior at the Tulsa High School for Science and Technology, said teen pregnancy is becoming a bigger problem for teenagers.
"At our school, before they even get to high school most kids are already not virgins," Oden said. "Me and my friends were just talking about how to keep from getting pregnant and one of my friends who was there just found out she's pregnant because she didn't use protection."
Mary Cuellar is a senior at the Jenks Alternative Center. She attended classes while pregnant and said she plans to get her college degree after she has her baby.
Cuellar said it's likely more high schoolers in both urban and suburban schools are having sex because images of sex are everywhere.
"Society has gotten more lenient on the way people dress and the way people look," she said. "It seems better (to some teenagers) to get attention that way than to be intelligent."
Kristyn Suselier, a senior at Booker T. Washington High School, said she has seen attitudes in her peer group become more and more casual toward sex in general and especially toward safe sex.
"I don't think they use protection as much anymore. I think girls want to use protection, and more boys don't want to and they talk them into it," she said. "I've had three friends get pregnant, and I think it's just a lack of using protection. It's crazy."
She said more and more teenagers are engaging in sex with people they're not romantically involved with.
"Not to put it all on males, but sometimes that's all they want. And there's females like that, too. As teenagers, they're not looking for a serious relationship. They're just looking to party," Suselier said.
The Manhattan Institute study also found that alcohol and drug use are common among high schoolers in both urban and suburban settings.
Drug use was about the same for both sets of students -- 45 percent of urban high school seniors and 42 percent of suburban seniors said they tried an illegal drug.
Several students from Jenks and Union said they were not surprised that alcohol use is more common than drug use because it is easier to get in Tulsa.
"There's certain stores in Oklahoma that if you throw the money at them and then walk out with the beer they don't really say anything," Cuellar said.
Kirk Jones, a senior at Booker T. Washington, said marijuana is the most popular illegal drug of choice among teenagers at his school.
"Students see the consequences of it as being not as serious as for other drugs.
He said he even knows some students who come to school high.
"Some are at the point where it really doesn't affect them. They have such a tolerance for it that they're really able to function just fine," Jones said.
Nationally, the survey indicated that 16 percent of urban 12th-graders and 18 percent of suburban 12th-graders had been high on drugs at school.
The survey also revealed that as high schoolers get older and experiment with alcohol, they are more likely to drive while drunk. Only 7 percent of urban high school sophomores and 8 percent of suburban sophomores who had consumed alcohol also drove drunk.
But 23 percent of urban high school seniors and 30 percent of suburban seniors who drank alcohol also drove drunk.
Jones said he thinks greater affluence among suburban school populations is to blame for higher rates of societal problems among teenagers there.
"When you have more money, you can expect more exceptions to rules," Jones said. "If something does happen, they know their parents will get them another car if they wreck theirs -- if your parents have more money and if they know the right people, you'll just get it fixed or just get whatever problem taken care of."
©2004 Tulsa World