A study conducted over the last two decades shows that many of the traditional risks teenagers in the state expose themselves to such as drinking, smoking and having sex have seen significant decreases.
Other dangerous activities, however, such as texting and driving, engaging in self-harm and overusing computers and other electronic devices have seen spikes.
According to the study conducted by the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction, which took survey data from 1993 to 2013, the risks teenagers take have shifted over time, but so have trends such as increased use of seat belts and contraceptives as well as increased physical activity.
The study found that more than half of all high school juniors and seniors reported texting and driving while 15 percent of high school seniors reported drinking and driving. Both categories have seen increases since the 1990s, according to the study.
Additionally, one in four female high school students reported engaging in self-harm such as cutting or burning, while one in 10 male students reported similar behavior, the study said.
Wisconsin students binge drink more than students in other states, according to the study, with 18 percent of high school students reporting the activity in the past 30 days. A third of all Wisconsin high school students reported drinking regularly, which is a decrease from the nearly 50 percent of students who reported drinking regularly in 1993, the study said.
Doug White, director of student services prevention and wellness at the Department of Public Instruction, said targeted initiatives within public schools to curb risky behavior such as drinking and smoking are one of the central reasons behind the shift in behavior.
“The behaviors that are formed during middle and high school carry over to college. Sometimes with an increase in freedom, we see an increase in risky behavior at college, which can lead to greater problems later in life,” White said. “These behaviors are shaped by many different forces, but the programs and policies that we’ve put in place at schools have helped limit these behaviors.”
Rates of students who reported smoking were down as well, the study showed. In 2013 the percentage of students who had ever tried smoking a cigarette was down to 33 percent, a drop from 64 percent in 2001. Additionally, students who reported having smoked a cigarette in the last 30 days dropped from 32 percent to 12 percent since 2001, according to the study.
Maureen Busalacchi, executive director of SmokeFree Wisconsin, said this decrease was due in part to a statewide initiative to end smoking among youths. Factors that reduced the rates of youth smoking in the state include taxing tobacco products, limiting areas where smoking is permitted and increasing education in public schools on the health risk of tobacco use, she said.
Busalacchi expressed concern, however, over the increasing use of cigarillos, such as “Swisher Sweets” among young people.
“We need to make all tax on tobacco products the same. People are seeing the cost of cigarettes and then they see these cigars that cost something like $2.50 for a pack, and they’re smoking those instead,” Busalacchi said.