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Survey says kids' behavior is risky

Pinellas students' answers worry the School Board.

By THOMAS C. TOBIN
Published April 11, 2007


The figures jump off the pages of a new report on middle and high school students in Pinellas County schools.

Significant numbers of them are harboring suicidal thoughts, having sex, eating large amounts of junk food, spending hours in front of the television and engaging in other risky behavior, according to a survey administered last April to about 3,600 students in school health classes.

The report is a joint effort of the school district and the Juvenile Welfare Board Children's Services Council of Pinellas County. It was released Tuesday to the School Board.

Board members said the numbers were so striking they plan to discuss them soon in a workshop.

"I think children in eighth grade thinking about taking their own life should be one of our top priorities," said board member Jane Gallucci.

"This isn't something we can delay until summer," said board member Linda Lerner. "I think we have to look at it very quickly."

Pinellas student survey, by the numbers

Compiled by Thomas C. Tobin, Times Staff Writer

Note: Most of the percentages are rounded. About 3,600 Pinellas County middle and high school students participated in the survey administered last April.

On the Web

The Pinellas School Board and the Juvenile Welfare Board of Pinellas County plan to release the survey on their Web sites in the coming days, after the results are reported to the Juvenile Welfare Board's directors on Thursday. Their respective Web addresses are: www.pinellas.k12.fl.us and www.jwbpinellas.org.

25 Percent of eighth-graders who have seriously considered suicide at some point in their lives. The vast majority were girls. 20 Percent of sixth-graders who have had suicidal thoughts. Ten percent had made a suicide plan, and 6 percent had attempted suicide. 9 Percent of high school students - 84 of 900-plus - surveyed who said they had attempted suicide at least once in the previous year. 57 Percent of sixth-graders who have talked to their parents about sex.
50 Percent of high school students who reported having had sexual intercourse or oral sex. Of them, the vast majority said their first such experience was between ages 14 and 16, and 10 percent said they have had more than six partners. 25 and 13 Percent, respectively, of eighth-graders and sixth-graders who reported being touched inappropriately. Ten percent of high school students said they had been forced to have sexual intercourse at some point in their lives. One in five were young men. 60 Percent of sixth-graders who said their weight was "about right," but 46 percent of them were still trying to lose weight. 98 Percent of sixth-graders who said they consumed "treat food" such as chips, candy, soda or cookies at least once a day. Fifteen percent said they consumed this food six or more times a day.
50and 31 Percent, respectively, of eighth-graders and sixth-graders who said they have been a passenger in a car with a driver who had been drinking alcohol. 40 Percent of eighth-graders who said they had carried a weapon, such as a knife, club or gun in their lifetimes. Sixteen percent of high school students reported carrying a weapon in the previous month. Five percent said that weapon was a gun. 30 Percent of high school students who said they felt sad or hopeless for more than two weeks in the year before the survey. Most of them were girls. 20 Percent of middle and high school students who said they do no chores at home.
46 Percent of high school students said they spent at least an hour on the phone each day. Ten percent said they spent at least four hours on the phone. 60+ Percent of eighth-graders who said they went to bed at 11 p.m. or later. 41 Percent of high school students who had paying jobs. More than one-fourth of them worked four or more hours a day. 43 Percent of sixth-graders who said they had not read for pleasure at all.