Trends in the Well-Being of America's Children and Youth, 1997. SD 1.7 Low-risk teens

04/01/1997

Statistics often show rates of individual problem behaviors among adolescents, such as drug or alcohol use, school drop out, or early sexual activity. Yet youth engaged in one problem behavior are often engaged in others as well; their risk of immediate and long-term harm increases as the number of risky behaviors increases.7

Most parents and other members of society believe that the ideal is for youth to avoid all risky behaviors. The cumulative risk index is designed to identify the degree to which adolescents avoid a set of key problem behaviors simultaneously. This measure is created from youth-report data for five behaviors, where a youth is defined as having no risks if he or she is:

  • in school or has graduated from high school,
  • has never had sexual intercourse,
  • has never used illegal drugs,
  • has not had 5 or more alcoholic beverages in a row in the past month, and
  • has not stayed out all night without permission in the past year.

Data limitations did not allow for the inclusion of all risk behaviors (e.g. engaging in acts of violence), but all included behaviors represent areas of substantial concern.

The proportion of youth who report avoiding all of these risk behaviors decreases with age (see Figure SD 1.7). Table SD 1.7 presents additional data on the percentage who report only one risk, and two or more risk behaviors. Even at age 15, less than half of youth (45 percent) have avoided all risk behaviors, and 30 percent have experienced two or more risks. By age 17, an age at which most youth are still in high school, the proportion with no risks has dwindled to less than one-quarter, and the majority have now experienced two or more risk behaviors. By age 18, only 16 percent report having engaged in no risk behaviors, while 62 percent report two or more such behaviors.
 

Figure SD 1.7  
Percentage of Youth with No Risks on Cumulative Risk Measure, by Age: 1992 

SD1_7.GIF

Note: A status of having no risks requires all of the following: being in school or graduated from high school; never having had sexual intercourse; never having used illegal drugs (includes marijuana); not having had 5 alcoholic beverages in a row in the past month; and not having stayed out all night without permission in the past year. Source: 1992 National Health Interview Survey Youth Risk Behavior Supplement, tabulations by Child Trends, Inc.
 
 

Table SD 1.7  
Percentage of Youth with No, One, and Two or More Risks on Cumulative Risk Measurea by Age: 1992

           
Age
15
16
17
18
__________________________________________________________
Cumulative Risk Measure
           
  No Risks
45
31
24
16
  Only One Risk
25
24
26
22
  Two or More Risks
30
45
50
62
           
Note: aA status of having no risks requires all of the following: being in school or graduated from high school; never having had sexual intercourse; never having used illegal drugs (includes marijuana); not having had 5 alcoholic beverages in a row in the past month; and not having stayed out all night without permission in the past year.  

Source: 1992 National Health Interview Survey Youth Risk Behavior Supplement, tabulations by Child Trends, Inc.

 

7 Moore, K.A. and Glei, D.A. (1994) "Taking the Plunge: An examination of positive youth development." Journal of Adolescent Research, 10 (11), 15-40.
 
 

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