High risk behaviors in adolescents

A. Farella, R. Rupp

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Adolescence is a very dynamic time in development and a time parents generally fear most after the "terrible twos". Adolescents evolve from the dependent state of childhood to an independent state of adulthood socially, physically, emotionally, and physiologically. Teens are in a new exploration phase where many dangerous and problem behaviors are observed. Sexual activity, licit and illicit drug abuse, truancy, criminal activity and suicidal behaviors are observed in high rates among teens ages 11 to 16 in multiple studies. In previous studies, low socioeconomic status, low maternal education level, single parent and stepfamily structure, black race and male gender are some factors associated with high risk behaviors. Are these risk factors consistent in all teen populations? Do teens already deemed "high risk" have multiple risk factors? Do juvenile detainees participate in high risk behaviors at a higher rate? This is a prospective, cross-sectional, observational, analytical cohort study. A modified Teen Health Risk Assessment questionnaire was filled out by 151 adolescents, ages 11-19, who met inclusion criteria in the Texas Juvenile Detention Center (TJDC), Pediatric Care Group (PCG), Pediatric Emergency room, and Children's Hospital at University of Texas Medical Branch from November 1997 to April 1998. Chi square tests and ANOVA were used to evaluate responses on the questionnaire. A risk behavior scale and an emotional risk scale were developed based on previous studies. Low socioeconomic status and low maternal education level were not significant determinants of emotional risk, high risk behavior, or sexual activity m this population. Sexual activity and age of first sexual encounter were not associated with early puberty in males, however did factor in for early maturing females. TJDC youths did not differ in academic achievement in comparison to other teens yet were the majority of youths in ninth grade or less. Teens from stepfamilies and single parent homes were more likely to be sexually active. Thirteen years was the most frequent age to have a first sexual encounter. Race was not a factor for risk behaviors, emotional risk or sexual activity. Male gender also was not associated with high risk behaviors. As predicted, TJDC youths were associated with higher risk behavior scores compared to the rest of the population. Teens report they go to adults for problems, 40% to parents and 18% to a school guidance counselor. All of the participating teens were in contact with a health care provider. This study reinforces the need for recognition of health behaviors and risk factors by those in contact with young people. This amplifies the need for guidance, support and education which may have an impact on the outcome of today's youth.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)123A
JournalJournal of Investigative Medicine
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 1999

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology


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