What Teens Really Say About Sex, Drugs And Sadness : NPR Ed A new survey of America's youth offers more than a few surprises — and raises some important red flags.

What Teens Really Say About Sex, Drugs And Sadness

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MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Do you want to know what teenagers really think about sex and drugs? Researchers at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention actually have a pretty good idea. Every other year, thousands of teens in high schools across the country take the Youth Risk Behavior Survey. The CDC just released results for 2017, and, as NPR's Cory Turner reports, there were a number of surprises.

CORY TURNER, BYLINE: First, sex - and here, the news is almost all good, says Kathleen Ethier. She's director of CDC's Division of Adolescent and School Health.

KATHLEEN ETHIER: Fewer are initiating sex. Fewer are currently sexually active. They're having fewer partners, and they're using more effective hormonal birth control methods.

TURNER: One change in the data that Ethier is not happy about is a decline in condom use. She says that's likely because many schools have stopped educating kids about the risks.

ETHIER: There has been a decrease over time in requirements that school cover HIV and STD in their health education programs.

TURNER: When it comes to illicit drugs like cocaine and heroin, teen use is way down compared to a decade ago. For the first time, though, the CDC also asked teens if they have ever misused prescription opioids, and 14 percent said yes.

ETHIER: We don't know what this 14 percent number means, but we were quite surprised by it.

TURNER: One in 5 teens also said they'd been bullied at school. But students of color are far more likely than white students to say they missed school because of safety concerns. Some of the biggest red flags were in mental health. Ethier says a third of teens reported persistent feelings of sadness or hopelessness.

ETHIER: I think that's really significant and certainly not what we want to see if we're trying to send our kids into adulthood in the most healthy way.

TURNER: The news is even worse for students who identify as lesbian, gay or bisexual. In fact, in every category, LGBT teens were at higher risk than their heterosexual classmates. Nearly two-thirds reported persistent feelings of sadness or hopelessness. They're twice as likely to be bullied and four times as likely to attempt suicide.

ELLEN KAHN: It's shocking and alarming and tells us that things are terribly wrong, and we seriously need to address this.

TURNER: Ellen Kahn is director of the Children Youth and Families Program at the Human Rights Campaign Foundation. She says these data are a stark reminder of the lack of protections for LGBT teens and why she says they're sorely needed.

Cory Turner, NPR News, Washington.

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