As parents prepare to send children off to school this month, they can’t help but worry.
Will they study hard and learn? Will they fit in socially? And, the increasingly unsettling anxiety, will they be safe at school?
Now, Montgomery County parents can glean greater insight into what happens when students leave their homes for the day. This year, for the first time, a Maryland Youth Risk Behavior Survey has statistics specific to Montgomery.
The survey, which Maryland does every two years as part of a federal initiative, covers a universe of risks, dangers and emotions — what youths do and how they feel about these actions and their learning environment.
Dr. Joshua Sharfstein, Maryland’s secretary of health and mental hygiene, wrote that the findings “will help state and local agencies, educators, businesses, students, parents and other key stakeholders develop and refine initiatives targeted at improving the health and well-being of Maryland youth.”
If you’re unprepared, the Montgomery results read like a heavy storm that won’t relent.
Among high school students:
• 8.3 percent said they never or rarely wear a seat belt while a passenger in a motor vehicle.
• 19.2 percent rode one or more times in the past 30 days with someone who drank alcohol
• 7.1 percent of students who drove in the last 30 days did so after drinking alcohol
• 31.3 percent of students who drove in the last 30 days sent a text or email while doing so (that increases to 55.7 percent for those who were 18 or older)
• 10.9 percent carried a weapon in the last 30 days and 3.9 percent did so on school property
• 5.8 percent didn’t go to school in the last 30 days because they felt unsafe at school or on the way to or from school
• 8.1 percent were threatened or injured with a weapon on school property in the last 12 months
• 9.3 percent were physically forced to have sexual intercourse when they did not want to (that increases to 14.5 percent for females who were 18 or older).
These are stark, sobering figures — especially the last category, which appears to describe rape. There has been widespread attention lately on the prevalence of sexual assaults on college campuses. This report reminds us that it’s a serious problem even before children go off to live on their own.
The report on statewide high school results said there are good and bad trends. The good includes more time on healthy physical activity and fewer students who have ever drank alcohol. The bad includes more use of smokeless tobacco and more use of needles to inject illegal drugs.
These surveys are voluntary and anonymous to elicit more candid replies — although there’s no guarantee that all of the answers were truthful. Still, they give us a strong foundation for insight into what happens in young people’s lives.
Montgomery’s middle-school data was equally revealing:
• 51.1 percent of students who rode a bike never or rarely wear a helmet (including 73 percent for boys at least 14 years old)
• 24.5 percent have carried a weapon
• 44.4 percent have been bullied on school property and 18.2 percent have been electronically bullied
• 17 percent have thought seriously about killing themselves
• 9.3 percent had not had breakfast in the past seven days
• 23.8 percent felt sad and hopeless for at least two weeks in a row and stopped participating in their usual activities.
We also saw some encouraging results.
Only 5.9 percent of middle-schoolers did not wear a seat belt in a motor vehicle and just 3.4 percent reported smoking a whole cigarette before age 11. Both of these figures might have been higher in earlier eras, before society got wiser and more aggressive about personal health and safety.
County officials plan to dig into the results this fall to see what they can improve.
We encourage everyone to read through these surveys. The state and local results can be found at http://tinyurl.com/obj98gj.
For parents, information like this is further proof that it can be a confusing, challenging world out there, often out of our control. We do our best at home and hope our children are smart enough when they leave us to make the best decisions for themselves.