Student Well-Being

Teens’ Risky Behavior Tied to School Troubles

By Jessica Portner — December 06, 2000 3 min read

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

Let us know what you think!

We’re looking for feedback on our new site to make sure we continue to provide you the best experience.

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
Future of Work Webinar
Digital Literacy Strategies to Promote Equity
Our new world has only increased our students’ dependence on technology. This makes digital literacy no longer a “nice to have” but a “need to have.” How do we ensure that every student can navigate
Content provided by Learning.com
Mathematics Online Summit Teaching Math in a Pandemic
Attend this online summit to ask questions about how COVID-19 has affected achievement, instruction, assessment, and engagement in math.
School & District Management Webinar Examining the Evidence: Catching Kids Up at a Distance
As districts, schools, and families navigate a new normal following the abrupt end of in-person schooling this spring, students’ learning opportunities vary enormously across the nation. Access to devices and broadband internet and a secure

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Special Education Teachers
Lancaster, PA, US
Lancaster Lebanon IU 13
Speech Therapists
Lancaster, PA, US
Lancaster Lebanon IU 13
Elementary Teacher
Madison, Wisconsin
One City Schools
Elementary Teacher - Scholars Academy
Madison, Wisconsin
One City Schools

Read Next

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
Student Well-Being Whitepaper
Building a Trauma-Informed Learning Environment
Download this white paper to learn how to recognize trauma and gain strategies for helping students cope and engage in learning.
Content provided by n2y
Student Well-Being Opinion How to Help Students Know When It’s Time to Quit—and When It’s Not
Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t, you’re right. Here’s how to consider the decision to persist or stop.
3 min read
Images shows a stylized artistic landscape with soothing colors.
Getty
Student Well-Being Caring for Students in the Wake of a Traumatic News Event
How educators can help students unpack emotions in the wake of troubling news events in a way that clears space for learning.
5 min read
Trump supporters try to break through a police barrier on Jan. 6, 2021, at the U.S. Capitol.
Pro-Trump rioters try to break through a police barrier at the U.S. Capitol.
John Minchillo/AP
Student Well-Being Infographic Data Snapshot: What Teacher and Student Morale Looks Like Right Now
See how the pandemic is impacting the morale and motivation of teachers and students in this exclusive EdWeek Research Center survey.
EdWeek Research Center
1 min read
Mood Emojis shown in the form of a chart with data graphs ghosted behind them.
Gina Tomko/Education Week + Getty<br/>