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Gerstein: Parents must help
Adults called on to reverse troubling trends among teens

LAWRENCEVILLE - When Ellen Gerstein was asked what could be done to quell the sex, drugs, depression and other issues youth face, she said there's only one group of people who can really help: parents.

After the release of the results of a 2006 survey by the Gwinnett Coalition for Health and Human Services which questioned more than 32,000 middle and high school students about sex, drugs, depression, exercise and nutrition, Gerstein, executive director for the Coalition, said parents are partially to blame for the increases.

"These are community issues and parents need to be aware that they are the ones that need to be talking to their children, first and most importantly. These are the responsibilities of the parents. They also need to be monitoring their child's behavior and their (children's) friends' behaviors," Gerstein suggested.

Some of the most shocking numbers revealed in the survey released last month and available on the Coalition's Web site at www.gwinnettcoalition.org Gerstein said are that teens in Gwinnett are having sex at an earlier age and are drinking alcohol more than previous years.

The thought that sex and drugs were problems that plagued youth of the past, Gerstein said is wrong.

"Parents think their kids aren't having sex and aren't drinking, but they are," Gerstein said.

Teens more sexually

active than past

The survey asked questions related to both sexual contact and sexual intercourse, revealing Gwinnett County youth are choosing to engage in sexual activity often, with 16 percent of middle school youth and 51 percent of high school students reporting having sex - the majority by age by age 14 or younger.

Although the statistics reveal the teens of this generation are more sexually active than in past years, the coalition reports pregnancy and abortion rates are declining.

"Here's what the kids are telling us: They're having sex more, but they're having a different kind of sex to avoid pregnancy - they're having anal sex, oral sex. This is what they're telling us," Gerstein said.

In an effort to quell the increases in sexual activity among today's youth, Gerstein suggests parents know where their children are and what they are doing.

According to the survey, teens reported engaging in sexual activity most commonly on the weekends, therefore, suggestions released with the survey package tell parents to be aware of their child's computer activities on a daily basis, monitoring their social networking and talking with them about sex, STDs and having healthy relationships.

"A lot of parents are afraid of the questions their children are asking, but they need to be talking to them and letting them know that these behaviors are wrong," Gerstein said.

More teens doing drugs

Although fewer middle and high school students reported having ever used alcohol, cigarettes and inhalants, the coalition's survey reveals the total number of teens that said they were currently using these drugs increased since the last survey in 2000.

Seven years ago approximately 26 percent of high school teens surveyed reported having consumed alcohol in the past 30 days in relation to the time they were taking the survey, while numbers in the same category nearly doubled to about 40 percent in 2006.

In that same 2000 survey, nearly 16 percent of high school youth said they were currently participating in binge drinking. When asked the same question six years later, approximately 26 percent answered yes to the same question.

But where are these kids getting the alcohol?

The survey reveals more than 30 percent of teens reported they received their alcohol from a family member or another adult.

"The parents are providing the liquor to their children and in some cases I think they're absolutely drinking with them," Gerstein said. "They think if they're giving it to them it's better, but that's absurd."

In addition to alcohol abuse, high school teenagers currently smoking cigarettes also increased from about 17 percent to nearly 26 percent while teen's currently smoking marijuana decreased from nearly 20 percent in 2000 to about 17 percent in 2006.

According to the survey, those using inhalants also decreased somewhat from 2000's 2 percent to about 4 percent use in 2006.

Depression an issue

among youth

While the survey finds numbers concerning teen sex and alcohol use are rising, when questions were asked about depression and suicide, an increase in these conditions were also found.

According to the survey, slightly more than 30 percent of middle and high school youth answered yes to five out of eight depression questions, indicating they might be clinically depressed. And while fewer high school students reported considering or attempting suicide in 2006 than six years prior, more middle school youth reported considering or attempting suicide in 2006 than in 2000.

For the first time in 2006, the Gwinnett survey included questions asking youth if they had ever cut themselves on purpose - 2,490 of the 32,273 reported they had, the survey said.

"We had people telling us - and we thought - this question needed to be asked," Gerstein said.

Gwinnett vs. National

statistics

From a national and state standpoint, Gerstein said Gwinnett County youth are average compared to other states' youth.

"In most areas we are still a positive for prevention, compared to Georgia and the nation we look pretty good, however over the years we're catching up," Gerstein said.

Although Gerstein said Gwinnett youth are on track with the rest of the state and nation, she said others' and Gwinnett's totals are still higher than the coalition would like.

"The only way these numbers are going to go down is if every parent in Gwinnett County talks to their kids," Gerstein said. "But looking at the response I've had after the release of this survey, I don't think so, I think it's going to go up. I hate to say it."

Gerstein said the next youth survey is slated to come out in Fall 2008.

For a complete look at the survey results, go to www.gwinnettcoalition.org.