Student Well-Being

Teens’ Risky Behavior Tied to School Troubles

By Jessica Portner — December 06, 2000 3 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

How teenagers perform in school, and the peers they hang out with after classes, have more influence than their race or family-income level on whether they will drink alcohol, smoke cigarettes, or carry weapons, a national study released last week suggests.

Results from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health, released Nov. 30, contradict the widely held view that race and income are the predominant influences on a young person’s likelihood of engaging in risky or self-destructive behaviors.

For More Information

The report, Protecting Teens:Beyond Race, Income, and Family Structure is available from the University of Minnesota Department of Pediatrics. (Requires Adobe’s Acrobat Reader.)

“We cannot make predictions with any degree of accuracy [about youths’ risky behaviors] based on the color of their skin or size of their parents’ bank account,” said Dr. Robert W. Blum, a professor of pediatrics at the University of Minnesota and the lead investigator for the federally financed study. “The same factors that put black kids at risk put white kids at risk, and if we want to deal with these problems, we have to look beneath the surface.”

To uncover the data underlying their conclusions, the researchers analyzed an ongoing survey—known as the “Add Health” study—of 10,000 black, white, and Hispanic students in grades 7-12 who attended 134 schools across the country. The students in the nationally representative sample were asked about a range of behaviors, including whether they smoked, used drugs, drank alcohol, carried weapons, were sexually active, or had tried to commit suicide.

The researchers found that more than one of every four students surveyed—which would mean a total of 5 million students in those grades—said they had carried a gun or knife in the past year. One of every 10 students said they drank alcohol on a weekly basis. One in five 7th and 8th graders said they’d had sexual intercourse, while two out of three of the 11th graders said they’d had sex.

Academic Problems

The researchers then analyzed how individual characteristics and circumstances—including race and family income, school performance, and parental relationships—influenced those behaviors.

To determine how well a student was doing academically, the survey asked the young people how frequently they had problems with homework and whether they had academic troubles. Those students, regardless of their race or gender, who said they had “frequent problems with their schoolwork” were more likely to use alcohol, smoke cigarettes, become violent, carry weapons, and attempt suicide. Those findings resulted in “Protecting Teens: Beyond Race, Income, and Family Structure,” a paper co-authored by Mr. Blum and published in the December issue of the American Journal of Public Health.

The importance of the study, the researchers said, is that it shows on a national scale with a large sample of students that school performance—more than any other single factor—is a driving force in whether a young person becomes involved in drugs or violence. “School is critically important in the life of kids,” Dr. Blum said.

Confirming earlier studies, the researchers also found that students who spent a lot of time after school with their friends tended to be more likely to drink, smoke, have sex, and carry weapons than young people who spent their after-school hours in supervised settings.

After-School Support

The report reinforces the need for more after-school activities, said Brenda Greene, the director of school health for the National School Boards Association.

“If kids are having trouble with homework, maybe they aren’t getting the tutoring or mentoring or coaching they need,” she said.

Michael Carr, a spokesman for the National Association of Secondary School Principals, said the study supports what principals know: School success is a boost for students no matter what race they are or how much money their parents earn.

But he cautioned that while a student’s economic level may not predict risky behavior, its effect on academic performance shouldn’t be dismissed.

“Students who come from a low-income background often have quite a bit more to push against to feel good about their schoolwork,” Mr. Carr said.

Related Tags:

A version of this article appeared in the December 06, 2000 edition of Education Week as Teens’ Risky Behavior Tied to School Troubles

Events

This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Budget & Finance Webinar
The ABCs of ESSER: How to Make the Most of Relief Funds Before They Expire
Join a diverse group of K-12 experts to learn how to leverage federal funds before they expire and improve student learning environments.
Content provided by Johnson Controls
Science K-12 Essentials Forum How To Teach STEM Problem Solving Skills to All K-12 Students
Join experts for a look at how experts are integrating the teaching of problem solving and entrepreneurial thinking into STEM instruction.
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
School & District Management Webinar
Modernizing Principal Support: The Road to More Connected and Effective Leaders
When principals are better equipped to lead, support, and maintain high levels of teaching and learning, outcomes for students are improved.
Content provided by BetterLesson

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Student Well-Being Opinion Student Anxiety Is Rising. Here’s What Helps—and What Doesn’t
Parents' natural inclination is to step in and eliminate their children's stress.
Tracy Dennis-Tiwary
2 min read
Images shows a stylized artistic landscape with soothing colors.
Getty
Student Well-Being What the Research Says COVID Vaccination Rates for Kids Are Stalling. What It Means for Schools
What's a school to do when just 1 in 3 elementary students are on track to be fully vaccinated by the end of the school year?
5 min read
Image of young boy wearing a mask getting a bandage applied after a vaccine.
E+
Student Well-Being From Our Research Center How Much Time Should Schools Spend on Social-Emotional Learning?
District leaders and experts say what’s most important is integrating SEL skills into all academic subjects.
5 min read
Image of a teacher in a classroom working with students.
In a national survey of educators by the EdWeek Research Center last year, about 85 percent said one hour should be the maximum amount of time devoted to social-emotional learning per day.
xavierarnau/E+
Student Well-Being School Counselors Sound Cry for Help After Buffalo Shooting
For many schools, the May 14th shooting rampage in Buffalo prompted staff discussions on how they might respond differently.
6 min read
A Buffalo police officer talks to children at the scene of Saturday's shooting at a supermarket on Sunday, May 15, 2022, in Buffalo, N.Y. A white 18-year-old wearing military gear and livestreaming with a helmet camera opened fire with a rifle at the supermarket, killing and wounding people in what authorities described as “racially motivated violent extremism.”
A Buffalo police officer talks to children at the scene of Saturday's shooting at a supermarket on Sunday, May 15, 2022, in Buffalo, N.Y. A white 18-year-old wearing military gear and livestreaming with a helmet camera opened fire with a rifle at the supermarket, killing and wounding people in what authorities described as “racially motivated violent extremism.”
Joshua Bessex/AP