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Minnesota Student Survey: Teenagers better behaved than 10 years ago

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Results from the 2013 Minnesota Student Survey show that fewer young people are engaging in harmful behavior, according to the Star Tribune.

The survey is conducted every three years by the Minnesota Department of Education. It was given to students in grades 5, 8, 9 and 11 in 284 school districts statewide in the first half of 2013. For the first time this year, participating districts had the option to administer the survey online. More than 160 thousand students participated.

The survey asked young people about their behavior, activities and experiences. Policy makers use it to understand trends and address common concerns.

The Star Tribune reports that fewer teenagers report alcohol and illegal drug use, compared with their peers a decade ago. Fewer are having sex. More are doing homework and sports.

Results suggest peer pressure is still there, but less pushy.

“I've seen a decline in peer pressure to push people toward drugs and alcohol,” said Nguyen Lu, a senior at Highland Park Senior High School in St. Paul. If classmates offer alcohol or cigarettes at a party, he said, “they usually don’t push” if you decline.

Researchers say there is genuine improvement in student behavior, though they acknowledge results may not represent urban high-poverty districts.

In 1998, 36.3 percent of ninth-graders said they drank alcohol in the 30 days before taking the survey. Last year, that number was just 14.2 percent. A lower percentage also reported smoking cigarettes or marijuana. More than 90 percent said they felt safe at school.

The 2013 survey drilled down by asking more questions about bullying in school. One in five students surveyed said weight and physical appearance was a trigger. About 10 percent of freshman boys and 20 percent of girls said they'd been bullied via social media or text.

A significant number reported feeling anxious, with 45 percent of 11th-grade girls saying they had trouble sleeping.

After talking with a group of students at Highland Park High School in St. Paul about the results, the newspaper described pressure on college-bound students to participate in many activities.

Students are trying to both be outstanding and avoid "standing out."

“You want to be smart but you don’t want to be too nerdy,” said senior Caroline Hewes. “You want to speak out but don’t want to be viewed as crazy or, you know, the B word.”

The newspaper said responses to the survey are voluntary and not necessarily an accurate reflection of students' behavior. In some cases, they could be "fibbing."

But a September report showed teenage driving fatalities and crashes down over previous years. The Minnesota Department of Public Safety credited tougher laws for the decline.

On the other hand, the survey also reported 34 percent of white teenage girls were using tanning beds, which puts them at increased risk for getting melanoma, a deadly form of skin cancer.

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