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Study: Stereotypes of troublemaking kids off the mark
Poor school performance, unsupervised time strongest predictors
MINNEAPOLIS, Minnesota (CNN) -- "Hanging out" and failing in school are far more likely to predict which teens get in trouble than income, ethnic group and having a single parent, researchers said Thursday.
The findings contradict widely held beliefs, revealing that factors such as race, income or family structure are weak predictors of teen behavior.
The survey, known as the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health, is the largest ever conducted with adolescents in the United States. More than 90,000 teens were involved.
Researchers said the findings show that stereotypes about which children are most likely to get into trouble don't hold true. The important thing, they said, is for parents to pay attention to their kids.
"By taking us beyond the issues of race and income, these findings tell us that if we want to help our children avoid dangerous behaviors, we need to find out what's going on in their lives," U.S. Surgeon General Dr. David Satcher said.
The study of 20,000 teens and their parents, published in the December 1 issue of the American Journal of Public Health, showed that how children do in school and how they spend their free time were the most important factors in whether they were likely to drink, smoke, use weapons, have sex or think about suicide.
Dr. Robert Blum of the University of Minnesota, who led the study, said he was shocked at how many teens were involved in sex. "One in seven seventh and eighth graders tell us they have had intercourse," he said. "That is kids 12, 13 and 14 years of age."
Teens the least likely to have had sex were those who believed there were social costs to having sex, to getting pregnant or to getting someone pregnant, and those who had taken a pledge of virginity. For black and Hispanic females, fear of parental disapproval also appeared to be a motivator, the researchers said.
A total of 26 percent of the respondents reported using, carrying or being in an incident involving a weapon. A total of 12.6 said they had either thought about or attempted suicide in the past year. Another 27 percent of the students said they smoked cigarettes and 47 percent had consumed alcohol.
However, more than half of the youths surveyed for the study said they had never engaged in the identified risky behaviors, the researchers said.
The report reinforces earlier findings showing that adolescents who feel a "connectedness" to their parents were least likely to engage in risky behaviors.
"It's very clear that parents need to know who their children's friends are and what they spend their time doing," Blum said.
Researchers from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill conducted the congressionally mandated, federally funded survey.
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National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health
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