What is Youth At-Risk Behavior?

2013 CDC At-Risk Behavior Survey Overview

An unhealthy diet is just one of the at-risk youth behaviors you should be concerned with.
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At-risk behavior is anything that puts youth at risk for future negative consequences, like poor health, injury or death. Many teenagers struggle to think about the long-term consequences their current behavior may create. But it's important for adults to recognize the dangers and to help guide teens into making better decisions. 

Tracking At-Risk Behaviors

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) tracks certain youth at-risk behaviors that they have deemed important and observable in their Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System (YRBSS).

Every two years a report is created based on six categories of health risk behaviors:

  • behaviors that contribute to unintentional injuries and violence;
  • tobacco use, including when tobacco was first used, how many cigarettes are smoked per day, 
  • alcohol and other drug use;
  • sexual behaviors that contribute to unintended pregnancy and STDs, including HIV infection;
  • unhealthy dietary behaviors;
  • physical inactivity, including obesity and asthma

Teen Behaviors That Contribute to Unintentional Injuries and Violence

The 2015 YRBSS report showed these statistics about behaviors contributing to injuries and violence:

  • 81% never or rarely wore a bicycle helmet.
  • 42% of teens had emailed or texted at least once while driving.
  • 8% of teens had driven after drinking within the past 30 days.
  • 20% of teens had ridden with someone who had been drinking at least once in the past 30 days.
  • 16% of teens had carried a weapon for at least one day during the prior 30 days.

    Tobacco Use in Teens

    The 2015 YRBSS report showed these statistics about tobacco use:

    • 32% of teens had tried a cigarette.
    • 10% smoked a cigarette within past 30 days.
    • 2% of teens reported smoking daily.

    Alcohol and Drug Use in Teens

    The 2015 YRBSS report showed these statistics with regard to alcohol and drug use:

    • 63% of teens had had at least one drink of alcohol in their lives.
    • 33% had had at least one drink in the 30 days prior to the survey.
    • 18% had had five or more drinks in a row.
    • 39% had used marijuana at least once in their lives.
    • 22% had used marijuana at least once in the past 30 days.

    Sexual Behaviors in Teens

    The 2015 YRBSS report showed these statistics with regard to sexual behavior:

    • 41% of teens had had sexual intercourse in their lives.
    • 12% of teens had sex with four or more people.
    • 30% of teens had had sex with at least one person in the three months prior to the survey.
    • 57% of the sexually active teenagers reported using condoms.
    • 14% said they had not used any birth control methods.

    Dietary Behaviors in Teens

    The dietary behaviors of teens in the 2015 YRBSS report showed:

    • 7% had not eaten vegetables in the week prior to the survey.
    • 5% had not eaten fruit or drank 100% fruit juice in the week prior to the survey.
    • 38% had not drunk milk during the week prior to the survey.

    Physical Activity in Teens

    Physical activity of teens in the 2015 YRBSS report showed:

    • 14% of teens hadn't received an hour of exercise in the past week.
    • 47% were physically active for 60 minutes per day on five or more days.
    • 42% used a computer for things other than school works for 3 or more hours per day.
    • 35% watched television for three or more hours per day.

    How Parents Can Use the Results

    It's important for parents to know the most common behaviors teens are engaging in that could lead to negative consequences. You can use the survey results to better understand the types of pressure your teen may face or the behaviors your teen might be tempted to engage in.

    You can also use the survey to start a conversation with your teen. Say something like, "I was reading a survey the other day that said 32 percent of teens have tried smoking. Do any of your friends smoke?" 

    It's important to hold ongoing conversations with your teen about risky behavior. Listen to your teen's concerns and provide education whenever possible.

    Sources

    "Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System." Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2015).

    "Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance — United States, 2015." Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2016)

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