Marijuana Use and Unprotected Sex Rising Among Teens

Keeping an open dialogue with your teens can help prevent risky behaviors.

Okay, parents, first the good news: Rates of smoking and teen births are at historic lows among high school students. But marijuana use is on the rise, and teens are still engaging in risky sexual activity.

In a national survey, 47 percent of high school students admitted to having sexual intercourse. About a third reported having had sex in the previous three months. Of that group, nearly 40 percent did not use a condom the last time they had sex and close to 77 percent did not use any type of birth control. Tiffany Werbin-Silver, MD, an obstetrician/gynecologist based in Mount Kisco, already sees middle school-aged girls in her office who test positive for gonorrhea and chlamydia due to unprotected sex. She always asks her younger patients if they’re using a condom. “‘Every time; all the time.’ That’s my motto,” she says. “As much as you can drill it into their heads.”

As for use of illegal substances, the latest data from the National Institute of Drug Abuse shows that more than one in five 12th graders (22.9 percent) is currently smoking marijuana, up from 18.8 percent five years ago. And while alcohol use has declined over the past five years, 41.5 percent of high school seniors are still imbibing.

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“Substance abuse in teenagers increases the likelihood that the child also has some sort of emotional disorder and so it would be advisable to seek out a mental health evaluation to screen for emotional problems,” advises pediatric and adolescent psychiatrist Francis Hayden, MD, medical director of Wingspan Psychiatric in Mount Vernon and the Bronx.

What parents can do: The key to preventing risky behavior is keeping an open dialogue, experts say. “Know your children and spend time with them so that you can have conversations about difficult topics of all sorts,” Dr. Hayden says.

Karen Pallarito is a freelance health writer for national print and online media and a Port Chester parent of pre-teen and teenage boys.

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