There are observations often made about young people today. Young people today are “taking more risks” or “using more drugs”. The observation becomes generalized that young people today are “just not as good” as young people of the past. The observations are insinuated quietly and, as isolated incidents emerge, they become referenced through the media in a way to punctuate the negative narrative. More observations are then made about why the incident has happened; maybe it is all the video games, or a shift in societal values, or that we are raising a generation of young people who are just not quite up to standard of those before them.
Well, this is where the latest survey results from the McCreary Centre Society become interesting. The McCreary Centre Society “is a non-government, non-profit organization committed to improving the health of B.C. youth through research and community-based projects.” Since 1992, they have had students complete surveys on a range of topics related to comprehensive school health. The latest results published this year are the fifth such set of results based on the surveying of about 30,000 students in Grades 7 to 12.
Unfortunately, the media release which accompanied the results from the McCreary Adolescent Health Survey did not seem to generate a lot of discussion. Quoting from the release:
Results show that youth are generally making better choices about risk behaviours than they have in previous years. For example, a lower percentage of students reported having tried tobacco, alcohol, marijuana, or other substances than their peers five and ten years ago. They were also more likely to engage in injury prevention behaviours, such as wearing a seat belt and not driving after drinking.
These choices may also be reflected in better health outcomes: students were less likely to have had a sexually transmitted infection or to have been pregnant or caused a pregnancy, and a smaller percentage reported serious injuries than in previous years.
Other encouraging news from the survey included a decrease in the percentage of students who had been physically or sexually abused, as well as in the percentage who had been sexually harassed.
Now, that is a story that just doesn’t fit in with the observations. In fact, the kids today are actually doing pretty good.
The McCreary data is exceptionally useful for school districts in our planning processes. We have already spent quite a bit of time dissecting data and there is more time that will be spent still to come. With thanks to Maureen Lee, our District Administrator (all data charts and graphs below are Maureen’s) we are looking at current areas of strength, concern and noticeable trends.
There has been tremendous work around school safety over the last decade. From the province’s ERASE Bullying Strategy, to numerous local school and community initiatives, there has been a sustained focus in this area. Our data is trending in a direction that shows these efforts are paying off:
The “%” listed is for 2013 and the “%” bracketed is for 2008. In all areas of the school, students are reporting they are feeling more safe and the numbers reporting they feel safe “Usually” or “Always” is over 90 per cent.
As we look at substance use the statistics are flat for marijuana, with three in 10 young people every having used it; tobacco use is slightly less with one in four having tried smoking. Of other drugs, it is prescription pills that still standout — although down from 17 per cent in 2008, the number is still at 10 per cent. This has been a concerted area of work in our community with the school district working with West Vancouver MP, John Weston, the West Vancouver Police Department, as well as other partners to raise awareness on this issue.
The alcohol data shows the number of students who have tried alcohol has dropped by about 10 per cent and there has been a slight increase of students who have not “ever tried alcohol”. It is also interesting to note, of those who have used alcohol, the age of first use has risen — so, young people are choosing to drink in lower numbers and are also choosing to drink later:
In looking at the foods our young people are consuming, some of the messages around fruits and vegetables seem to be sticking. Our young people are also drinking more water than when previously surveyed:
One final chart, which really struck me, was the one on Internet safety (below). Over the last five years, technology use in the hands of young people has exploded; it has become increasingly mobile and we are also encouraging students to bring their devices to school. In spite of this quick and huge growth in technology, students are reporting they feel safer with fewer feeling unsafe online and fewer reporting they have been cyber bullied. Again, this is an area of huge investment between schools and communities and it does appear to be paying off:
As with learning outcomes, we have to be careful when we talk in percentages. If four per cent of students are feeling unsafe, these numbers represent real children and anything below 100 per cent (feeling safe) tells us we still have work to do. We should be pleased with the story our young people are telling us and we can also take this as a clear message we need to keep doing what we are doing — our interventions are working. There are also other areas we must continue to focus on including mental health, a lack of sleep and physical activity.
The Provincial BC Adolescent Health Survey is available on their website here. The McCreary Centre Society will also be producing documents for each of the 16 health service delivery areas.
Of course, there are areas we still need to focus on and even in areas of strength, we must remain diligent. But, we do need to tell the story of our young people today and their health — it is a good story, an improving story and not just an observation.