Student survey: More college plans; less drinking, exercise

Young people in Minnesota are smoking and drinking less and more are thinking about college, but many of them could also be doing more to exercise regularly.

Those are just some of the many findings of a wide-ranging report called the Minnesota Student Survey. It's done every three years and asks tens of thousands of students to detail -- sometimes very personally -- their own behaviors and experiences.

All parents have probably wondered -- and some have maybe even asked -- many of the questions on this survey.

Have you ever had sex? Half of all high school seniors say they have.

Have you ever used drugs? About 15 percent of ninth graders say they've smoked pot in the last year.

Have you ever been pushed or shoved at school? A majority of sixth graders say yes.

Students don't have to fill out the survey, but about 100,000 did this spring, totaling more than 70 percent of all sixth, ninth and 12th graders in Minnesota. The answers are anonymous.

In general, student behavior has improved slightly in most categories, but the data also show where work is still needed.

For example, nearly 90 percent of all 12th graders want to go to college, but only 73 percent of American Indian boys do.

Education Commissioner Alice Seagren says getting minorities to look at college isn't a new issue.

"That means working with the parent groups, working with the superintendents, the principals, the teachers union, the higher ed institutions on kind of a unified message," she said.

But Seagren adds the report helps highlight the issue from the student perspective.

The survey casts a wide net, asking kids how many hours a week they watch TV or play videos games, what kinds of grades they get, and which parents, if any, live at home.

A lot of the survey asks about behaviors. Overall, seat belt usage is up, alcohol usage is down, and marijuana usage is about the same. Students who report that they drink and drive is down, but 18 percent still said they do.

In addition to having sex, the survey asks about the number of partners students have had, or whether they use birth control.

Sex isn't the only personal topic, either. One question asks: Has any adult in your household ever hit you so hard or so often that you had marks or were afraid of that person? Twelve percent of 6th graders said yes.

While some figures are very low, it's worth noting that they register at all. Two percent of all sixth graders, for example, say they've tried to kill themselves, which equals more than 900 kids.

About 20 percent of ninth graders report they were touched, grabbed or pinched in a sexual way on school property in the past year, and 10 percent of 12th grade boys say they have used alcohol or drugs during school.

State Health Commissioner Sanne Magnan said the survey is an important look at what Minnesota youth are doing, even if parents don't like all the answers.

"That's an important thing that we need to make certain as we continue on, that we do these kinds of survey and we do bring them to the light of day and people begin to talk about what does it mean," Magnan said.

Some school districts have participated since 1992, but the survey is always being updated to account for the times.

This year's was the first to include questions about texting: How many hours a week do you spend on the phone or texting? Among ninth grade girls, nearly 30 percent checked the last answer -- 21 hours or more.

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