Teenagers are particularly vulnerable to emotional highs and lows and it typically shows in their behavior. Mixed in with lots of good days and excellent choices are temptations and decisions that put them at high risk for dangerous and sometimes deadly outcomes. It’s all part of the adolescent stage of life.
The good news is that a recent survey conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) shows teenagers are smoking cigarettes, using drugs, fighting and drinking alcohol less.
They’re also more likely to wear their seatbelts and helmets when they are supposed to.
On the flip side, more teens are obese and not getting enough sleep.
However, the most troubling new data shows that more than 40% of teenagers who drive cars admit to having texted or emailed while driving recently.
"We're encouraged to see that high school students are making better choices in some areas, like smoking, fighting, and alcohol use," said CDC Director Tom Frieden, MD.
However, other areas are concerning, he said, including the amount of time students spend glued to a screen instead of being active and a relatively new worry -- texting or emailing while driving.
Two in five of the 64% of students who reported driving in the 30 days before the survey also said they had been texting or emailing while behind the wheel, according to Stephanie Zaza, MD, director of the agency's Division of Adolescent and School Health.
"This puts them and other drivers at risk," she said.
On the whole though, there’s been really good progress made in teenager’s safety and health.
“I think it's really encouraging that we're seeing the lowest cigarette smoking rate ever,” Frieden told NBC News.
While smoking is the single biggest preventable cause of death in the United States — it causes heart disease, cancer and lung disease — teenagers face a more immediate risk. The single biggest killer of teens is motor vehicle crashes, causing 23% of deaths among 10 to 24-year-olds, CDC says.
Frieden believes that there’s a reason teens are buckling up more, whether they are behind the wheel or riding as a passenger.
“These positive trends didn't just happen. They're the result of hard work in communities all over the country — doing things like protecting kids from secondhand smoke, passing laws that are graduated driving laws so that kids don't drink and drive,” he said.
On the texting front, older teen drivers may do it more often. CDC found that 58% of high school seniors admitted to texting while driving.
Another positive statistic is that fewer teens are having sex. Unfortunately this good news is tempered with a down side. Teen sex is decreasing but so is condom use.
Just over a third of teenagers are currently sexually active.
Teens should use condoms even if they are also using other contraception, Frieden said. Pregnancy is a big worry, but STDs are even more likely, and Frieden fears "there may be a sense that, well, there's treatment for HIV so it's not such a terrible problem.”
There may be treatments for HIV but there’s no cure. People must take pills every single day for life and the virus can develop resistance to those medications.
The other long-term risks to health are poor diet and a lack of exercise. Teens are trying, but not reaching targets there, the survey indicates.
Results of this survey show that teens are making progress in some important safety and health related areas and, like most of us, need work in others. The fact that fewer teens are smoking is very good news. The increase in texting while driving is very troubling but not surprising considering that adults are doing the same thing.
Many of the safety and health issues teens are experiencing are not much different from what adults are doing and that’s where parents and guardians can make a big difference. Kids are much more likely to control their own behavior better when they see their parents doing the same.