American Teens Heavily Involved in Sex, Alcohol, Drugs, Smoking

Nearly half (48 percent) of high school students have had intercourse and 3.5 million people ages 12 to 20 meet the criteria for having an alcohol use disorder.  Almost a quarter (23 percent) of high school students smoke.

These are some of the disturbing statistics contained in an article about stressed out teenagers that appeared in the Health section of the July 15 edition of the Washington Post.

The article on over-achieving teens focuses on the health complications some teens face as they navigate the demands of school, extracurricular activities, jobs, and volunteer commitments in an effort to build resumes that will land them in good colleges.  While the story focuses on problems that may be more prevalent in upper-middle-class suburbia, the statistics reported in conjunction with the story offer a disturbing snapshot of this generation: at least one third up to almost one half of America's teens are engaging in behaviors that are detrimental to their physical and mental health and the development of personal responsibility and character.

    One out of three girls in the United States gets pregnant before age 20 38 percent of high school students have used marijuana 4, 600 young people (ages 10 to 24) commit suicide each year 4 million teens contract a sexually transmitted disease each year 4 percent of high school students have used methamphetamines 8 percent of high school students have been physically forced to have sexual intercourse 17 percent of U.S. adolescents ages 12 to 19 are overweight 65 percent of high school students do not get enough exercise

Consider that this is a generation of children who are media saturated. Between television, movies, radio and the Internet children are bombarded relentlessly with messages that denigrate traditional values and character but promote everything from exploring bi-sexuality in reality shows like MTV's A Shot at Love with Tila Tequila, to music that glorifies oral sex like the chart-topper “Lollipop” to an Internet environment that tells kids how to be a successful anorexic, how to commit suicide and how to order prescription drugs online.  Video games and computer use promote sedentary recreation, and some of the most popular games, like Grand Theft Auto IV, glorify violence and immorality with abandon. 


Kids live in a culture that worships celebrity and gives undue attention to the bad behavior of Hollywood stars.

Negative influences abound.  The July 13 edition of the Minneapolis-St. Paul Star Tribune reported on a national web campaign that “encourages young people to post strip-tease videos of themselves as a way of raising clothing donations for homeless youths.” 

While it is true that rebelling against authority and pushing boundaries is a developmental milestone for adolescents, there is ample social science research that shows a positive correlation between media consumption and behavior.  Unlike traditional values, sex, drinking and drug use are celebrated, not scorned, by Hollywood.  Is it any wonder then that almost half of our teens are sexually active and more than one third are using mind-altering/mood-enhancing drugs?


In 2007 the Culture and Media Institute issued a report entitled The Media Assault and American Values which drew on data gathered in the National Cultural Values Survey and showed that the liberal media do assault traditional values on many fronts.  The statistics reported in the Washington Post show that the culture war is being waged in the hearts, minds and bodies of our teenagers.

Kristen Fyfe is senior writer at the Culture and Media Institute, a division of the Media Research Center.