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Survey shows CT teens outpace nation on key issues

Published 12:56 pm, Wednesday, June 25, 2014
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Connecticut teens are more likely to be bullied at school, more likely to have tried heroin and more likely to have access to illegal drugs on school property than their peers across the country.

But the same national survey that showed these grim statistics also showed Connecticut high-school students are less likely to drink alcohol before age 13, less likely to have had sexual intercourse and less likely to spend more than three hours a day watching TV or playing video games.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's Youth Risk Behavior Survey, given last year to 13,600 high-school students nationwide, included questions on alcohol and drug use, sexual behavior, diet, nutrition and physical activity.

Results for the Connecticut teens taking part correspond roughly to results for their peers nationwide on most survey questions, including the likelihood of getting into a physical fight on school grounds, the frequency and duration of sad or hopeless feelings and the frequency of driving while texting, emailing or drinking.

But in some cases, the CDC considers differences between state and national results statistically significant.

In Connecticut, for instance, 21.9 percent of students said they had been bullied on school property, compared to 19.6 percent of students nationwide.

"The bully data doesn't surprise me at all," Ridgefield psychotherapist Elizabeth Jorgensen said.

"We have a lot of adults who bully and their behavior trickles down, especially in Fairfield County, where there are high-achieving and demanding parents," she said. "When you pressure your child all the time, it is a form of bullying your kid. Then those kids take that behavior to school."

Worse, she said, some parents bully school officials in defending their misbehaving children, which sends the wrong message to the students.

Jorgensen said she sees a link between the results for bullying and those for forced sexual intercourse -- which 9.2 percent of Connecticut teens report suffering, compared to 7.3 percent of U.S. teens.

Forced sex is "an extreme form of bullying," Jorgensen said.

Survey results suggest nearly one-third of teens in Connecticut and the nation felt sad or hopeless nearly every day for two or more weeks in a row, although state students were less likely to seriously consider suicide: 14.5 percent, compared to 17 percent nationwide.

Jorgensen credited that to the state's mental health services, which she thinks could be better still.

"We definitely have more school counselors per student than many other states," she said, "and we are lucky that we have more resources compared to more rural states."

Studies show that highly affluent children have a higher risk of mental illness than their peers from middle-class and working-poor families, she said.

"In general, (middle-class and working-poor parents) spend more time with the children, and so the kids have more environmental supports," Jorgensen said.

The state's higher rate of heroin use among teens -- 3.4 percent, vs. 2.2 percent nationwide -- is linked to the growing abuse of prescription opiates, Jorgensen said, because students who become addicted to these often move on to heroin, which is cheaper.

The heroin figures were no surprise to officials of the Midwestern Connecticut Council of Alcoholism, which is trying to address opiate addiction among young people in the region.

"This opiate use is a national epidemic now and is something to be concerned about," said Terry Budlong, director of Prevention Services for the Midwestern council. "We are trying to catch the national epidemic before it becomes too rooted here."

In the survey, Connecticut teens were found to be less likely than U.S. peers to use alcohol before 13, although use by teenagers generally corresponded with national figures.

But a local report Budlong released Tuesday suggests progress is being made. Fewer students in 2014 reported using alcohol in the past 30 days than in 2010, and a similar decline was evident among those reported attending a party where others drank, or driving away from a party after drinking themselves.

"We have had a concerted effort for the last two years to increase the number of middle- and high-school students we spoke to," Budlong said. "Two years ago, no one was talking about underage drinking, and in the past two years we have addressed every middle- and high-school student in Danbury."

The Midwestern Council used grant money on billboard ads, bus advertisements and a radio public-service announcement on the dangers of underage drinking.

Michelle Catucci, president of the Connecticut School Counselor Association, said the survey offers good information.

"It brings awareness to issues and open conversations," she said, because it alerts counselors to their common problems. "It doesn't have to be a district that is looking at an issue all alone."

eileenf@newstimes.com; 203-731-3333