Teens are engaging in fewer risky activities, CDC says

The kids are all right — at least that’s what a new wave of data from the Centers for Disease Control  reporting that teenagers are engaging in fewer risky activities strongly suggests.

The figures stem from by the CDC’s annual Child and Adolescent Health study, an ongoing survey which just released its latest wave of data from 2010-2013, depending on the topic.

Most notable is the collapse in teenage pregnancy, which has steadily declined from a 60 births 1,000 women in 1990 to 29.4 per 1,000 in 2012. The abortion rate has also seen a similar decline, while contraceptive use remains elevated from the 1980s.

Teens’ drug use has continued its decades-long decline as well.  The percentage of teens who have reported trying alcohol has declined from roughly 70 percent in 1980 to under 40 percent in 2012, with a reduction in cigarette smoking by more than a third over the same time period — from 30 percent to less than 20 percent. Marijuana use has remained at roughly 20 percent for the last decade, while the proportion of teens reporting using cocaine declined to an all-time low of 1.3 percent.

These trends also dovetail with a decades-long decline in violent crime among teens.

Vox Media reporter Sarah Kliff wrote that “Today’s teens are the best behaved generation on record” in her report on the CDC survey.

Several studies have suggested that a decrease in lead  in the environment starting in the late 1970s might be playing a major role in driving the decrease in risky behaviors. Lead, which was a common additive to gasoline until it was phased out in the 1986, interferes with the developmental process in young brains and may lead to impaired judgement later in life. Mother Jones’ analyst Kevin Drum has several posts up discussing the evidence.

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