To some observers, teens today may seem spoiled (undisciplined and egocentric) compared to those of earlier times. The reality, however, is different. While poverty has decreased and political turmoil has lessened, young people are still under many types of stress. Peer pressure, changing family conditions, mobility of families and unemployment are just a few reasons why some young people may try to escape reality by turning to alcohol or drugs. However, most young people in the United States do not have problems with drinking, drug abuse, teen pregnancies or juvenile delinquency. Drug use (marijuana and cocaine are the most commonly used drugs) has decreased among young people in the United States within the last 10 years, though alcohol abuse has increased.
According to a 1991 government survey, about 8 million teenagers are weekly
users of alcohol, including more than 450,000 who consume an average of 15
drinks a week. And, although all 50 states prohibit the sale of alcohol to
anyone under 21, some 6.9 million teenagers, including some as young as 13,
reported no problems in obtaining alcohol using false identification cards.
Although many teenagers say they never drive after drinking, one-third of the
students surveyed admitted they they has accepted rides from friends who had
Many young Americans are joining organizations to help teenagers stop
drinking and driving. Thousands of teenagers have joined Students Against
Driving Drunk (SADD). They sign contracts in which they and their parents pledge
not to drive after drinking. In some schools, students have joined anti-drug
programs. Young people with drug problems can also call special telephone
numbers to ask for help.
Aside from drug abuse, another problem of America's youths is pregnancy among
young women. One million teenagers become pregnant each year. Why are the
statistics so high? The post-World War II baby boom resulted in a 43 percent
increase in the number of teenagers in the 1960s and 1970s. The numbers of
sexually active teens also increased. And some commentators believe that
regulations for obtaining federal welfare assistance unintentionally encourage
Many community programs help cut down on the numbers of teenage pregnancies.
Some programs rely on strong counseling against premarital sex and others
provide contraceptive counseling. The "Teen Health Project" in New York City has
led to a decline of 13.5 percent in the rate of teenage pregnancies since 1976.
Why? Their program offers health care, contraceptive counseling, sports
programs, job referrals and substance abuse programs.
About one million young people run away from home each year. Most return
after a few days or a few weeks, but a few turn to crime and become juvenile
delinquents. In 1989, approximately one-third of those arrested for serious
crimes were under 18 years of age. Why are young people committing crimes? Among
the causes are poor family relationships (often the children were abused or
neglected while growing up), bad neighborhood conditions, peer pressure and
sometimes, drug addiction.
Laws vary from state to state regarding juvenile delinquents. Once arrested,
a juvenile must appear in a juvenile court. Juvenile courts often give lighter
punishments to young people than to adults who commit the same crime. Juvenile
courts hope to reform or rehabilitate the juvenile delinquent.
New programs to help troubled youths are created every year. For example, the
city of New York and the Rheedlen Foundation provide an after-school program at
a junior high school to help keep teens from becoming juvenile delinquents.
Young people can go 4 after school and talk with peer
counselors (people their own age), receive academic tutoring or take part in
athletic and social activities. One New York community's library offers weekday
evening workshops in dance, art, music and theater. They also sponsor social
events, such as theater productions, in which young people can participate.
Another group, the "Youth Rescue Fund" has a celebrity peer council of 15
teenage actors and actresses who volunteer their time to increase teen crisis
awareness. As one young television actress said: "Teenagers are an important
resource in improving the quality of life for all people."