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Teens' survey results dismay

LAWRENCEVILLE - The signs Ellen Gerstein sees are scary.

Teens spend hours in front of the television or computer, interacting with technology and not with people. Too many are drinking alcohol, having unprotected sex, driving too fast and fighting. That's what Gerstein found when the Gwinnett Coalition for Health and Human Services surveyed 32,273 teenagers last year.

The numbers, she hopes, will be a wake-up call to parents.

"It's bad. We don't know how we are going to break through to them," Gerstein said. "Parents are in so much denial that this is their kid."

While the coalition found improvements in teen behavior between 1996 and 2000 surveys, Gerstein, executive director of the coalition, said programs are not working without parent involvement. So this survey, released Wednesday, is being marketed as a parent's handbook, complete with tips on everything from nutrition to preventing suicide.

"The only way we are going to continue to make progress is to talk to parents," Gerstein said. "They should be talking to their children. They should be paying attention."

Gerstein said she was appalled that 53.8 percent of high schoolers said they had used alcohol, and 30 percent of them said they got the alcohol from their family or other adults.

But Johnny Watts, a Duluth father of five children ranging in age from 13 to 20, said he's allowed his children to sip his wine or beer. They didn't like it, he said.

"Nothing is missing out of the (liquor) cabinet," he said. "I think they are going to be exposed to it. I'd rather talk to them myself."

Watts said he wasn't surprised about statistics saying 51 percent of high schoolers and 15.6 percent of middle schoolers engaging in consensual sex, and he's not sure about some of his own kids.

But he believes he has an open relationship with the kids and believes they are engaged in positive things.

"We have a close relationship with the kids and talk," he said. "We are really blessed. We have five healthy, good kids. They do some stupid things, but if you get through that, you'll be OK."

One wake-up call for his 15-year-old, he said, was when Brookwood quarterback Daniel Peek died earlier this month. Police believe alcohol was a factor in the single-car crash this spring.

Robbie Susan Moore said Peek's death also struck her 16-year-old grandson, who lives with her.

"Hopefully, we can come together and tell kids this drinking and driving and negative things can kill you," Moore, of Lawrenceville, said.

While Moore said she wasn't sure about where the statistics on the survey came from, Gerstein said every sixth-, eighth-, 10th- and 12th-grader in Gwinnett took the survey, and the statistics were fairly common throughout the county.

"I know we've got a lot of problems, but I know we've got a lot of good kids," Moore said.

Her grandson "is into sports. I try to keep him in church. If you stay busy with positive things, you don't have time to get into other things," she said. "We do the best we can of monitoring him and telling him about how he can get in trouble."

For the full report, go to www.gwinnettcoalition.org.