Survey tracks risky behaviors among Douglas County students

For the first time, the 2019 survey included a question about sexting.

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For the first time since the Youth Risk Behavior Survey began, officials asked high school students about sexting.

Among the 1,394 students in Douglas County who took the 2019 survey, 28% said they have sent, received or shared nude photos or other sexual images.

The survey is offered every other year, and is part of a national effort by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to monitor health-risk behaviors among the nation's high school students. However, 2019 is the first time the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction has compiled the survey results by county.

The survey tracks wellness issues ranging from motor vehicle safety and school climate to sexual behavior and alcohol use. Students from Superior, Northwestern and Solon Springs high schools took the 2019 survey. In total, 92% of freshmen, 85% of sophomores, 81% of juniors and 58% of seniors responded. Only two schools surveyed seniors.

Here are some highlights:


Driver’s safety

While 5% of students reported they drove after drinking within the past 30 days, 42% — including 60% of seniors — reported texting or emailing while driving in the past 30 days.


Overall, 39% of students reported having had sex; 30% of them reported they had sex within the past three months.

For the first time in 2019, a question on sexting was included in the survey. Students were asked if they had ever sent, received or shared nude photos or other sexual images; 28% of students reported doing so.

In total, 27% of students reported that they had experienced sexual or dating violence. Girls were three times as likely to have experienced sexual violence — 41% of girls compared to and 14% of boys, according to survey results.


Overall, 26% of students reported being bullied at school over the past 12 months — 32% of girls and 21% of boys. Fewer students, 21%, reported being bullied electronically over the past 12 months. But girls were more than twice as likely as boys to be bullied online, with 28% of girls reporting being cyberbullied compared to 13% of boys.


Nearly half of students who responded, 49%, said they have tried vaping. Nearly a quarter of the students — 24% — reported using vaping products in the last 30 days. In contrast, 11% of students reported using other tobacco products in the past 30 days (5% used chew or smokeless tobacco, 6% used cigars, 8% used cigarettes).

Of those who have vaped or used other tobacco products, nearly half — 46% — reported trying to quit within the past 12 months.


Thirty percent of students who responded had at least one drink in the past 30 days and 59% of students reported having an alcoholic beverage at least once. Eleven percent of students reported binge drinking in the past 30 days. Among students who drank, 36% had their first drink before age 13.


Seventeen percent of students who responded reported they used marijuana in the past 30 days and 29% of students reported using marijuana at least once. Among students who used marijuana, 21% reported they started using before age 13.


Fifteen percent of students reported being offered, sold or given drugs on school property within the past 12 months, and 10% reported attending school under the influence of alcohol or drugs during the past 12 months.

School safety

Eleven percent of students said that they rarely or never feel safe at school, while 79% feel safe at school most or all of the time. Nearly half of the students — 46% — felt violence was a problem at school and 10% of students reported missing one or more days of school because of safety concerns either at school or en route to school.

Sixteen percent of students reported experiencing violence at school within the past 12 months — 9% had been in a physical fight at school and 9% reported being threatened with a weapon on school property. Students were also asked whether they had carried a gun on school property in the past 30 days. One percent said they had done so one or more times.


Overall, 60% of students reported feeling that they belong at school, while 15% of students responded they did not feel like they belonged; 17% of students said that they did not have a teacher or other adult at school with whom they could talk about a problem.

Emotional support

Only 23% of students reported getting emotional help when they needed it most of the time. On the flip side, 54% of students said they rarely or never get the help they need.

Who are they turning to for help? More than half of students, 51%, reported turning to a peer — a friend or sibling — for emotional support; 31% reported turning to an adult for support. Eighty-four percent of respondents said they have at least one adult besides their parents they could turn to.

Mental health

More than twice as many girls as boys — 45% to 22% — reported experiencing depression in the past 12 months and nearly twice as many girls as boys — 65% versus 35% — reported problems with anxiety during that same time frame.


Thirty percent of girls who responded and 11% of boys reported intentionally harming themselves in the past year and 26% of girls reported seriously considering suicide compared to 15% of boys.


Among those who were surveyed, 26% reported experiencing hunger due to lack of food at home in the past 30 days.

The full report is available on the Wisconsin DPI website under Youth Behavioral Risk Survey, Conducting a YRBS , High School County Reports A-G.

Maria Lockwood covers news in Douglas County, Wisconsin, for the Superior Telegram.
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