Welcome to my blog, which speaks to parents, professionals who work with children, and policy makers. Through stories from my behavioral pediatrics practice (with details changed to protect privacy) I will show how contemporary research in child development can be applied to support parents in their efforts to facilitate their children’s healthy emotional development. I will address factors that converge to obstruct such support. These include limited access to quality mental health care, influences of a powerful health insurance industry and intensive marketing efforts by the pharmaceutical industry.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Sex and alcohol use by high school students on college visits


Recently I received an email alerting me to an important survey conducted by CARE about sex and alcohol use on overnight college visits for high school student applicants. I admit that despite practicing pediatrics for over 20 years, and having a high school senior in the thick of the college application process, I have not previously given this issue a moments thought. Certainly it seemed worthy of a blog post! The email read:
Roughly one in six surveyed teens (16 percent) who had been on an overnight college admissions visit reported drinking alcohol during the visit. Teens also reported engaging in sex or other intimate sexual behavior (17 percent), using drugs other than alcohol (5 percent) or driving while impaired (2 percent) during their overnight college visit. 
The study, conducted for CARE(Center for Adolescent Research and Education) and SADD(Students Against Destructive Decisions) by ORC International Inc. surveyed 1,070 U.S. teens from age 16 to 19, 270 of whom indicated they’d been on an overnight college admissions visit. It includes high school students currently making college visits and current college students reflecting on previous visits. Data was collected online between April 17 and 20, 2012.
Most concerning, in my opinion, is that for half of those kids, it was their first experience with sex or alcohol. This suggests that high schoolers visiting college may a particularly vulnerable group. They may be initiated into the world of college life before they are quite ready for it.  Below is a quote from A Higher Education, the Psychology Today blog post by Stephen Wallace, director of CARE:
New research from the Center for Adolescent Research and Education (CARE) at Susquehanna University and SADD (Students Against Destructive Decisions) reveals that  more than half (51 percent) of high school overnight visitors who reported drinking alcohol on campus (about one in six) report having done so for the first time.  Among those who reported having sexual intercourse (12 percent of those participating in an overnight visit), half (50 percent) said this had been the first time they had done so.
With regards to sexual encounters, it is quite likely, given the circumstances, that these are one time affairs. Such an experience may have negative consequences, particularly in the setting of emerging sexual identity.

The whole college application process challenges teenagers to focus, in what can and should be a healthy way, on their emerging sense of self and unique identity. For parents, offering background support and letting the child, with the help of college advisors, guide the process, is an excellent approach.

This survey, however, has opened my eyes to an issue that warrents parental involvement. Wallace offers some guidelines about addressing this issue, for both parents and teens. Every family has its own unique ways of communicating.  My hope is that in calling attention to the issue, it will help to prevent college bound teenagers from getting themselves into uncomfortable or unhealthy situations. 

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