Teen: Child Development (12-17 Years Old)

  • Medical Author:
    John Mersch, MD, FAAP

    Dr. Mersch received his Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of California, San Diego, and prior to entering the University Of Southern California School Of Medicine, was a graduate student (attaining PhD candidate status) in Experimental Pathology at USC. He attended internship and residency at Children's Hospital Los Angeles.

  • Medical Editor: David Perlstein, MD, MBA, FAAP
    David Perlstein, MD, MBA, FAAP

    David Perlstein, MD, MBA, FAAP

    Dr. Perlstein received his Medical Degree from the University of Cincinnati and then completed his internship and residency in pediatrics at The New York Hospital, Cornell medical Center in New York City. After serving an additional year as Chief Pediatric Resident, he worked as a private practitioner and then was appointed Director of Ambulatory Pediatrics at St. Barnabas Hospital in the Bronx.

Teen Girls Tricky Issues Slideshow Pictures

How can parents ensure the safety of their teen 12-17 years of age?

Parents of teens growing up in the 1960s were constantly worrying about the proposed lifestyle of the time..."sex, drugs, and rock 'n' roll." Those teens have now become parents of teenagers themselves, and the irony that the same concerns have come full circle is not lost on many.

A 1977 study commissioned by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) indicated that approximately half of all high school students self-reported having had one consensual sexual intercourse.

Results from the 2013 national YRBS indicated that many high school students are engaged in priority health-risk behaviors associated with the leading causes of death among persons aged 10–24 years in the United States.

During the 30 days before the survey, 41.4% of high school students nationwide among the 64.7% who drove a car or other vehicle during the 30 days before the survey had texted or e-mailed while driving, 34.9% had drunk alcohol, and 23.4% had used marijuana.

During the 12 months before the survey, 14.8% had been electronically bullied, 19.6% had been bullied on school property, and 8.0% had attempted suicide.

Many high school students nationwide are engaged in sexual risk behaviors that contribute to unintended pregnancies and STIs, including HIV infection. Nearly half (46.8%) of students had ever had sexual intercourse, 34.0% had had sexual intercourse during the 3 months before the survey (i.e., currently sexually active), and 15.0% had had sexual intercourse with four or more persons during their life. Among currently sexually active students, 59.1% had used a condom during their last sexual intercourse.

Results from the 2013 national YRBS also indicate many high school students are engaged in behaviors associated with chronic diseases, such as cardiovascular disease, cancer, and diabetes. During the 30 days before the survey, 15.7% of high school students had smoked cigarettes and 8.8% had used smokeless tobacco.

During the 7 days before the survey, 5.0% of high school students had not eaten fruit or drunk 100% fruit juices and 6.6% had not eaten vegetables. More than one-third (41.3%) had played video or computer games or used a computer for something that was not school work for 3 or more hours per day on an average school day.

In addition, this same publication outlined that the majority (72%) of deaths that occur in adolescents resulted from four preventable causes:

  1. Motor vehicle accidents
  2. Other unintentional injuries (falls, etc.)
  3. Homicide
  4. Suicide

The study also concluded that it was not all bad news and that "since 1991, the prevalence of many health risk behaviors among high school students nationwide had decreased."

Health issues play a major factor in the safety aspects of teenagers. Drug experimentation and suboptimal nutrition (fad diets, limited calcium intake, skipping breakfast, etc.) are risky behaviors which may pay out both short-term and long-term consequences. Likewise, an unrealistic body image concern contributes to the rising incidence of eating disorders (bulimia and anorexia nervosa) and of the use of performance-enhancing supplements (for example, androgenic steroids). Equally of concern is the obesity epidemic in this age range (16% are overweight or obese, and 30% describe themselves as overweight). Studies have clearly demonstrated that the likelihood of an overweight/obese teen successfully losing excess weight and maintaining their healthy weight is less than 10%; thus, the vast majority of overweight/obese teens will remain so during their adult lifetime. As such, the secondary effects (endocrine, cardiovascular, orthopedic, etc.) have caused some researchers to predict that the current teen generation may be the first in many that may not have a longer life span than their parents.

Alcohol is the most frequently abused drug in the United States -- surpassing tobacco (nicotine) and illicit drugs combined. 

The 2011 Youth Risk Behavior Survey found that among high school students, during the past 30 days

  • 39% drank some amount of alcohol.
  • 22% binge drank.
  • 8% drove after drinking alcohol.
  • 24% rode with a driver who had been drinking alcohol.

Illicit drug experimentation and abuse by high school students is extremely prevalent.

In 2010, 10.1 percent of youths aged 12 to 17 were current illicit drug users, with 7.4 percent current users of marijuana, 3.0 percent current nonmedical users of psychotherapeutic drugs, 1.1 percent current users of inhalants, 0.9 percent current users of hallucinogens, and 0.2 percent current users of cocaine.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 10/21/2014
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