November 30, 2000
Family structure not the cause of teen
A story published today in the Washington Post reports that factors such as race, income
and family structure are not reliable factors to predict self-destructive behavior by
teenagers, according to the largest national study ever done on adolescents. The
study revealed that a quarter of U.S. teens have been involved with weapons, and 10
percent say they drink weekly.
In fact, school performance and spending a lot of unsupervised time with friends predict
much more accurately whether teens will drink, smoke, use weapons, attempt suicide or have
sex at a young age, according to the survey of 10,000 students ages 12-17 and their
The National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health was funded by 18 federal agencies and
analyzed by researchers at the University of Minnesota Medical School.
In a paper to be presented today at the National Press Club, Blum and his colleagues
suggest public and private funding for social programs may need to be shifted in view of
their findings. While resources will continue to be needed in the inner city, for example,
targeting neighborhoods based solely on race or income "cannot solve the larger
public health problem," they wrote.
"In absolute numbers, the majority of health-risk behaviors occur among populations
who, according to demographics, would be considered low-risk."
Young people from single-parent homes are more likely to
engage in troubling behavior than kids living with a mother and father (including
step-parents), according to the report, but only by about 2 percent.
"Let's say I'm a physician counseling a teenager and that teen tells me he lives in a
single-parent home. What is that going to tell me about whether he smokes cigarettes or is
having sex? Not much," Blum said. "But if that kid tells me he spends his Friday
and Saturday nights with kids who drink, that's going to tell me a lot."
Single parents often have less time and energy to stay on top of their kids' schoolwork
and friends, said Angela Diaz, a physician in adolescent medicine at Mt. Sinai Hospital in
New York and a single mother of three teenagers. But if they apply themselves, their
children will do as well as children in two-parent homes, she said.
Diaz's observation echoes the first wave of Add Health data released three years ago by
Blum and researchers from the University of North Carolina. According to that analysis, a
strong emotional bond to parents protected children from taking unhealthy risks more than
any other factor. Today's more refined analysis confirmed that observation.
The ongoing longitudinal study, which started in 1994 and is known among scientists as
"Add Health," shows that more than half of young Americans are making good
choices in their lives. But many are not. Among the findings:
* A large number of young people have a drinking problem. One of every 10 youths,
representing about 2 million kids, say they drink weekly.
* The single biggest factor in whether teens engage in intercourse is whether they have an
ongoing relationship. "When you look at all the factors that can be associated with
sexual behavior--friends, school performance, relationship to parents, alcohol
consumption--the big one is simply opportunity," Blum said.
The proportion of students who said they had had sexual intercourse ranged from fewer than
one of five in seventh and eighth grade to almost two of three juniors and seniors. The
survey found that virginity pledges help minority boys and girls and, to a lesser extent,
white girls, abstain from sex. Such promises have little effect on white boys.
* Religious involvement protects minority males from smoking and Hispanic females from
attempting suicide or having sex. But it offers little obvious protection for other
behaviors, notably by whites.
* Having a friend who commits suicide or attempts to commit suicide puts a student at risk
of trying to take his or her own life or thinking about it. A healthy relationship with
parents lessens the risk for everyone except white boys. The study does little to explain
one of the most puzzling phenomena in adolescent health: why white males kill themselves
and what prevents those who are so inclined from following through.
* Minority youth who appear physically mature are more likely to engage in several of the
behaviors studied, including alcohol consumption. Physical maturity appears not to be a
risk factor for whites, however.
Among the approximate 25 risk factors that investigators examined--including working 20
hours a week and being raped or sexually abused--problems with schoolwork are the most
serious. This is as true of affluent white teens in the suburbs as it is of poor black
teens in the city, as true of children living with both parents
as those living with one.
The second most consistent risk factor is time spent with friends, especially in an
unsupervised setting with friends who engage in unhealthy behaviors. "There may also
be health consequences to substantial amounts of unstructured leisure time," the
When teens engage in self-destructive behaviors, what they do tends to vary according to
their race or ethnicity, the survey shows. Minority boys and girls, for example, are more
likely to be involved with weapons. Minority youth are also more likely to engage in sex.
Whites are more likely to drink, smoke and attempt suicide.
For more information about Blum's paper, "Protecting Teens: Beyond Race, Income and
Family Structure," click here.
Tuesday, November 28, 2000
Hearing set for court challenge to Arkansas
A story published today in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette
reports that a two-and-a-half-year legal battle over an Arkansas law that makes same-sex
sodomy a crime will soon be left up to a Pulaski County Circuit
Court judge to decide.
Both sides in the civil lawsuit, originally filed against the
Arkansas attorney general's office and the state's prosecutors by seven gay Arkansans, are
scheduled to appear at a hearing Jan. 29 before Circuit Judge
David Bogard to argue motions for summary judgment.
Arkansas Code 5-14-122 makes sodomy between people of the
same sex is a Class A misdemeanor, which carries a punishment of up to one year in jail
and a fine of up to $1,000.
In a motion for summary judgment filed Nov. 20, attorney Ruth
E. Harlow, who represents the plaintiffs, argues that the law violates her clients' right
to equal protection of the law as guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution and the state
constitution. Harlow also claims that the law violates the plaintiffs' rights to privacy.
"The act thus creates two vastly different rules
depending on who engages in these forms of intimate behavior," writes Harlow, an
attorney for the New York City-based civil rights group Lambda Legal Defense and Education
Fund. "Those who have a same-sex sexual attraction ... are forbidden this particular
behavior in all contexts, no matter how committed their relationship or how private the
setting. They are branded criminals and threatened with prosecution, while their
heterosexual neighbors freely practice the same intimate contact without criminal penalty
The seven plaintiffs first filed a lawsuit opposing the
sodomy law in January 1998 in Pulaski County Chancery Court. In June 1999, as part of a
ruling on a prejudgment appeal, the Arkansas Supreme Court ruled that the case should be
transferred to circuit court. Also in that ruling, the Supreme Court rejected an argument
by defendants that the lawsuit should be dismissed because none of the plaintiffs had
actually been charged under the law.
In a later ruling, the Supreme Court dismissed the attorney
general's office as a defendant in the lawsuit. Pulaski County Prosecuting Attorney Larry
Jegley is now the sole defendant, representing prosecutors across the state.
In the motion for summary judgment filed on Jegley's behalf
last week, Assistant Attorney General Timothy Gauger said that there is no right to
individual privacy contained in the Arkansas Constitution or the U.S.
Constitution that would prevent a state from criminalizing sodomy between two adults of
the same sex.
Arkansas is one of five states with sodomy laws targeting same-sex acts. The others are:
Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas. Courts in Missouri and Texas have ruled against the
sodomy laws there. Texas is planning to appeal that decision.