Give kids credit; they’re smarter than you thinkKids today are exposed to all sorts of gruesome violence, raucous sex and explicit drug use — and that’s just in prime time. They learn more about reproductive organs during most commercials then we did in four years of biology class.
By: By Mike Nichols, Superior Telegram
Kids today are exposed to all sorts of gruesome violence, raucous sex and explicit drug use — and that’s just in prime time. They learn more about reproductive organs during most commercials then we did in four years of biology class.
Surely, we’re raising a generation of sex-crazed, drug-addled degenerates — except we’re not. The truth is kids are more than all right.
“People walk around thinking everybody drinks in high school and everybody is having sex, and that is not what the numbers show,” said Kate Barton, a mother of two girls in the McFarland School District.
Wisconsin teenagers drink less, smoke less, and even sit around on their much derided derrieres less than their older siblings ever did. They also get pregnant less — far less. Once you get outside the biggest cities, teen births are virtually unheard of in many areas of the state.
Only three girls under the age of 18 gave birth in Stevens Point in 2010, for instance; only three in Superior; only one in Muskego.
That’s not because abortions are more common. Fortunately, they aren’t. It’s because kids are more likely to use contraception, and less likely to have sex while they’re drunk.
Yes, kids still drink — but not nearly as much or as frequently as they did in the early 1990s, according to the 2011 version of a Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction survey on risky behaviors given to over 3,000 Wisconsin high school students every other year since 1993.
In the early 1990s, four kids out of every ten said they’d been in a car with a driver who’d been drinking within the prior 30 days. Now it’s one out of four.
The use of hard drugs and inhalants is also way down — as is the number of kids carrying weapons or fighting. Maybe that’s because they’re getting their exercise doing other things. Physical activity is way up in the last ten years while cigarette smoking is almost passé. Only 15 percent of Wisconsin high school kids say they smoked a cigarette at least once in the prior 30 days, half as many as just ten years ago.
It’s still easy to find stuff to worry about.
“Some of the decisions that these kids make — getting into a car with a boyfriend who has been drinking — can change their lives forever,” said Barton, who recently joined a group called McFarland Adults Joined in Caring. “Even though the numbers are down, there are still kids” drinking and having sex.
There also are plenty of kids who still seem depressed. Almost one-third of girls reported feeling sad or hopeless every day for two or more weeks in a row over the course of the prior year.
For parents who want nothing so much their kid to be happy, that’s the sort of thing that keeps you up at night.
Here’s another: While cigarette smoking is way down, the number of kids smoking pot since 1993 is way up. Kids are now just as likely to regularly smoke pot as get drunk — a statistic that ought to be included in the increasingly high-profile debate over whether to fight pot use by legalizing it, something I’ll explore in a future column.
For now, though, the point is kids aren’t just all right. They’re surprisingly health-conscious, and unusually smart in all sorts of ways.
It’s almost impossible to change group behaviors. Somehow, it happened. The experts say it’s at least partly due to education. Some of it — especially for high school athletes — might be the byproduct of tough consequences for getting caught.
Whatever the reason, parents can rest a little easier, even during those sex and violence-filled TV shows. The kids, it seems, are smart enough to know the difference between entertainment and life.
Mike Nichols is a syndicated columnist who spent 18 years writing about Wisconsin for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. He is now a senior fellow at the Wisconsin Policy Research Institute. This column represents only his personal opinion. Contact him at MRNichols@wi.rr.com.