Parents, teens meet on survey

Statistics released on teen sex, drug and alcohol use

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Sex, drugs and alcohol.

Many parents say these are the toughest subjects to discuss with their children.

But a group of Steamboat Springs High School seniors pleaded with community members Thursday to put aside any hesitation and discuss these difficult issues with their children and other parents.

"I want you parents to really sit down and talk with your kids about the issues," senior Rachel Miller said.

"Even if they push you away because they want independence, they need you," senior Circe Pluto said.

The pleas followed a presentation of high school behavioral statistics generated from a SteamboatCARES survey conducted at the school in May 2002. About 80 percent of last year's high school student body participated in the survey.

The purpose of the presentation was to promote discussion and awareness in the community about some of the issues facing Steamboat teenagers, senior Marissa Bucci said.

The meeting seemed to achieve its goals from the start, as the silent audience of about 80 listened attentively while the group of nine seniors highlighted survey statistics covering a variety of behaviors, including alcohol and drug use, sexual activity and suicide.

While alarming to some, many of the statistics mirror national statistics. However, some are better and some are worse, the students said.

According to the survey, 64.5 percent of Steamboat Springs High School students drink alcohol. Of those, 43.5 percent drink with the intention of getting drunk. Slightly more than one-third have been passengers in a vehicle driven by someone they knew had consumed alcoholic beverages within two hours of getting behind the wheel.

Concerning drug use, 50 percent of last year's students who participated in the survey had tried marijuana. A total of 41 percent admitted to having tried some form of illicit narcotic.

On a positive note, the students said, a miniscule percentage of students admitted to hard-drug use such as cocaine or heroin. The percentage registered as "insignificant" according to survey results, Bucci said.

Senior Kyle Nelson presented survey results dealing with body image and its relationship to student self-esteem. Nearly 50 percent of female students indicated on the survey that they felt overweight. The national average is 36 percent, Nelson said.

The statistic is alarming considering how physically fit most Steamboat students are, Nelson said. The actual percentage of overweight females at the school is about 6 percent, he said.

"We're definitely one of the most fit and in-shape schools in the country," Nelson said.

Also positive, Nelson said, is that 65 percent of students participate in strength-building exercises.

Like teenagers across the country, Steamboat teens typically have their first sexual experience between the ages of 15 and 16, senior Mike Holland said.

Overall, 30 percent of the school's male students said they have had sexual intercourse, compared to 43 percent of the females. Both percentages decreased since a similar 1999 survey, Holland said.

More than 75 percent of male students said they use protection when having sex, a percentage the student group initially considered positive. However, when analyzing the numbers, the students said they became concerned that one-fourth of the school's males have sexual intercourse without condom use.

About 25 percent of the surveyed females said they have been sexually assaulted, defined by the survey as either having sex against their wishes or while under the influence of drugs or alcohol. Of those students, 27 percent said they didn't report the sexual assault to anyone.

"Most kids don't tell anyone because they feel no one will believe them or they will be called a 'slut' or something else," senior Katie Carter said.

Instances of sexual assault often result in other behavioral issues such as suicide, the seniors said. More than one-fourth of the school's male students and half of the female students said they have considered suicide, according to the survey.

Of the survey's participants, 98 percent said they answered the questions honestly.

The presenting students agreed that family function, another area covered by the survey, has an incredibly strong influence on many, if not all, of the behaviors addressed by the survey. The better a family functions, the less likely children will participate in risky behavior, the students said.

The group of nine seniors stressed the importance of understanding the survey data and encouraged the audience not to jump to conclusions about high school students. Many students, they said, make consistently wise decisions. But like many adults, kids are prone to making the occasional mistake, the students said.

The statistics and behaviors of the students are a reflection of the community as a whole, Bucci said, because the community is where most of the students were raised.

Preventing future mistakes, Nelson said, might best be accomplished though family discussions about these important issues, particularly before students reach high school age.

Nelson suggested bringing the community and the high school together to create support programs.

The senior leadership group, which was formed last year with a mission to unite the school's population and promote understanding, has spent months pouring over the statistics, discussing ways to present them and meeting with community agencies, local doctors and fellow students to discuss the survey results. Most of the results were withheld until Thursday's presentation because the students wanted to present the statistics themselves to the community.

The students received a standing ovation from the audience for their hard work and courage to discuss these issues with the community.

Advocates Against Battering and Abuse worker Diane Moore said the work this group of seniors is doing is essential to the community.

"I think it's critical because our community still doesn't understand and believe some of the things our youth have to deal with," Moore said. "What these kids are doing is critical."

Parent Jerry Kozatch said parents shouldn't be too surprised by the statistics.

"Being here in Steamboat, I don't think we're all that different from being anywhere else in the world," he said. Kozatch said he hopes the efforts of these students will lead to community-wide action to address some of the issues.

-- To reach Brent Boyer call 871-4234

or e-mail bboyer@steamboatpilot.com

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