Top 10 Health Concerns for Teens in 2011

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As parents, we worry. It’s part of the job description. And every year, researchers work to uncover commonalities in the childhood health threats that keep us up at night. This year, a poll by the University of Michigan revealed a number of old concerns as well as a few new areas to worry about.

In May 2011, The C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital National Poll on Children’s Health asked 2,130 adults of all races and ethnicities to rank 23 health concerns in order of importance. Are these the issues you would describe as a “big problem” in your teen’s life?

  1. Childhood Obesity (33%)
  2. Drug Abuse (33%)
  3. Smoking and Tobacco Use (23%)
  4. Teen Pregnancy (24%)
  5. Bullying (24%)
  6. Internet Safety (23%)
  7. Stress (22%)
  8. Alcohol Abuse (20%)
  9. Driving Accidents (20%)
  10. Sexting (20%)

Drug abuse, smoking and childhood obesity have plagued parents for many years, with childhood obesity ranking number-one four years in a row. Drug abuse is a clear frontrunner as other national surveys show that marijuana is a growing problem among teens.

Although parents recognize the dangers of teen drug abuse, only 10 percent believe their own teens have used alcohol in the past year and just 5 percent believe their teens have used marijuana during that time. These perceptions don’t match up with what teens themselves are reporting.

In the most recent Monitoring the Future study, 52 percent of 10th graders reported drinking alcohol in the past year and 28 percent of 10th graders reported using marijuana in that time period. While parents acknowledge that other people’s kids are likely using drugs, they have much greater difficulty believing their own teen has given in to peer pressure.

Sexting and Internet safety are relatively new concerns that emerged in the poll. Given the widespread use and availability of cell phones and the Internet, it is not surprising that these concerns made the top-10 list. Experts believe this is a sign that their warnings are reaching the target audience. They encourage parents to set clear limits on technology use and warn teens about the dangers of sending sexually explicit photos.

While these concerns are the most pressing for white and Hispanic populations, black poll participants cited unsafe neighborhoods and violence among their primary worries. Researchers emphasized that local programs are essential to address issues specific to each community.

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