Survey Investigating Risky Behaviors by First-Semester College Students Points to Path for Prevention

Released: 1/9/2013 3:00 PM EST
Source Newsroom: Dick Jones Communications
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Newswise — Selinsgrove, Pa. (January 9, 2013) – With the first semester in the rearview mirror and a new one quickly approaching, research from the Center for Adolescent Research and Education (CARE) at Susquehanna University and SADD (Students Against Destructive Decisions) suggests that dialogue between parents and their first-year college students may be more important than ever.

According to the national survey, approximately one-third of teens are experimenting with risky behaviors – many for the first time – during their first semester at college. Roughly one-third of current college students surveyed reported drinking alcohol (37 percent), engaging in intimate sexual behavior (37 percent), or having sexual intercourse (32 percent) during their first semester at college.

Among these teens, one-quarter to nearly half report engaging in these behaviors for the first time:

• Drinking alcohol = 26 percent
• Using other drugs = 46 percent
• Driving impaired = 35 percent
• Having sex = 27 percent

“Clearly these numbers are cause for continuing concern about the health and safety of young people on college campuses,” said Stephen Gray Wallace, director of CARE and an associate research professor at Susquehanna University. “This reinforces the need for sustained education and prevention efforts both before and during the early stages of the college experience, when behavioral patterns are likely being formed.”

Research from the Pennsylvania State University also points to the early stages of college as a critical time in preventing students from becoming heavy drinkers, as well as the positive impact of parent-based interventions.

“While our research shows that first-semester college students do sometimes put themselves at risk, not all students are doing so,” said Penny Wells, SADD’s president and CEO, citing the 2011 Monitoring the Future study finding that alcohol consumption among college students has declined 12 percent since 1991. “Even those students who are [drinking or using other drugs] can still learn to reduce undesirable risk behaviors. Parent expectations and communication play an important role in helping their children through this transition period.”

Parents can help by:

• Reflecting with their students on the first-semester experience and what role, if any, alcohol use played in their academic, athletic or social performance;
• Pointing out that research from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) links college alcohol use with injury, assault, sexual abuse and depression;
• Emphasizing that many college students build a rewarding social environment without drinking or other risk behaviors;
• Clearly communicating expectations for responsible behavior and sound achievement;
• Encouraging on-campus connections with caring adults, such as a faculty member, coach, counselor, or member of the student affairs or chaplaincy staff.

About the Study

The study, conducted for CARE and SADD by ORC International Inc., surveyed 1,070 U.S. teens from ages 16 to 19 on their behaviors during college admissions visits and in their first semester at college. Participants included current college students reflecting on previous visits and their first college year. Data was collected online in April 2012.

About the Partners

The Center for Adolescent Research and Education (CARE) at Susquehanna University is a source of authoritative information for parents, educators, mentors, coaches and health professionals concerned with the attitudes and behaviors of adolescents and young adults. The center’s primary mission is to conduct original research on adolescent development and decision-making. Learn more at susqu.edu/care.

SADD (Students Against Destructive Decisions) is the nation’s leading youth-based, peer-to-peer education, prevention and activism organization dedicated to preventing destructive decisions, particularly underage drinking, other drug use, risky and impaired driving, and teen violence and suicide. For more than 30 years, SADD has empowered youth and families to promote positive decision-making and choose healthy lifestyles. Discover more at sadd.org and parentteenmatters.org.


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