Research: Are U.S. Teens In Crisis?

Every two years, nearly 15,000 high school students participate in the Youth Risk Behavior Survey (YRBS), a questionnaire aimed at gauging attitudes and behaviors. The just released results from the 2017 YRBS paint a troubling picture for a large swath of American adolescents.

According to an article in The New York Times, findings include the following:

  • 1 in 7 high school students reported misusing prescription opioids
  • 20% of students reported being bullied at school
  • One in 10 females and 1 in 28 males reported being physically forced to have sex
  • 31 percent reported persistent feelings of hopelessness
  • 17 percent have considered suicide, and 14% actually made a suicide plan

All of the above findings represent an increase over previous YRBS Survey results with the exception of the opioid question, which was asked for the first time in 2017.

Positive Gains

While many of this round’s findings are cause for concern, the news was not all bad: For example, fewer teens are having sex (about 40%) compared to a decade ago (48%). But with that, condom use has decreased—a serious red flag for David Harvey, executive of the National Coalition of STD Directors, who describes the decrease as “a recipe for disaster” for the transmission of HIV/AIDS, hepatitis, and other STDs.

Smoking and drinking seem to have stabilized at decreased levels compared to 1991 highs: In 2017, 9% were current smokers versus 27% in 1991; 30% currently reported using alcohol, down from 51% in 1991. In general, illicit drug use seems to be decreasing, with falling use of synthetic marijuana, ecstasy, heroin, inhalants, and hallucinogenic drugs.