Kids get hurt in lots of ways during the middle years. But sometimes knowing the odds can help you be better prepared for, or even prevent, the worst.
Here are some of the biggest risks based on the hard numbers from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and other sources. The good news: School fights and weapons have declined more than 25 percent in the last decade.
Odds: 1 in 10 kids have had intercourse by age 13. Kids are bombarded with images of sex through television, music and video games without always hearing about the consequences: pregnancy, sexually transmitted diseases and emotional turmoil.
Antidote: The biggest factors in stopping teen sex are you and the clock. When you can’t be with your child, make sure they are with another adult. Get your daughter involved with a program during the after school hours, which is when kids are most likely to have sex. Have your son volunteer to tutor elementary students.
Odds: 1 in 5 kids have smoked tobacco and 1 in 4 kids have consumed alcohol by age 13. Studies have shown that use of drugs at this age greatly increases the possibility of other risky behavior and later substance abuse. Not concerned yet? Consider that 1 in 10 students have already tried marijuana before entering high school.
Antidote: While your child deserves some privacy, if you suspect drug use, be a snoop. You may be the “bad guy” for a while, but it will pay off in the end. If you see someone abusing drugs in the media, ask your child why he thinks they’re doing it. Not getting through? See if your local police department or hospital has an educational program for kids. Sometimes shock is the only way to scare a child straight.
Odds: By ninth grade, 1 in 4 students have suffered from prolonged depression — feeling sad or helpless almost every day for at least two weeks in a row. How do you know when your child crosses the line from being in a funk to being seriously depressed? Well, that’s a tough one.
Antidote: Watch for signs. Typically the first is a lack of interest in activities she used to enjoy. Other warning signs include a change in sleep patterns, irritability, loss of appetite, significant weight gain or loss and risky behavior like sex and drug abuse. Ask teachers if they’ve noticed anything different or if her work habits have changed. Still unsure? Enlist the help of a school counselor or a mental health professional.
Odds: 1 in 3 kids report that they’re bored in school. So what? Well, bored kids are more likely to get into other kinds of trouble and to act out in the classroom. Some kids get bored because they’re struggling with difficult subjects or tasks. They find it too painful to do the work. High potential students get bored with work that does not challenge them. Both types may drop out for real when they hit high school if they don’t get help.
Antidote: Talk to your kids about what being bored really means. For a struggling student, look for tutors and work with teachers and counselors to pinpoint the problem. For instance, some kids have lots of great ideas but fall apart trying to put those ideas on paper. For a gifted student, ask the school about changing courses and finding more challenges both during and after school.
Odds: 1 in 2 kids say they have cheated on schoolwork in one form or another. If your child hasn’t, one of his friends probably has. It’s not surprising, given our culture of winning by any means in sports, politics and business. But cheating not only means he’ll learn less now; it could lead to other forms of lying and stealing that will burn him later.
Antidote: Lead by example; show your child how doing your own work is satisfying to you. Coach him on his homework, but keep the ball in his court. Reward him when he does well on a test or learns something new, even if he doesn’t score a perfect “A.” You can also point out examples in the news about cheaters who get caught.
Jaime Millard is the former Program Coordinator for Partnership for Learning.
Reprinted with the permission of EduGuide. © 2008 EduGuide.