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Parenting Perspectives: Fingers crossed for wise teenage decision-making

Kathy Tofflemire

Teenagers. God love ’em.

They’re no longer children, but they aren’t adults. In fact, emerging science about brain development suggests most people don’t reach full maturity until age 25.

That’s kind of scary when you think about it. A whole lot of important life-changing events can take place before the age of 25.

By the time I was that age, I was a wife, a mother and had worked in the newspaper business for several years. And, admittedly, I was dumber than a post in some respects.

As the grandparent of a teenager and a preteen, I watch with great interest as they begin taking those sometimes wobbly steps into the big, wide world.

Teenage boys, I’ve found, can be witty and entertaining or, conversely, sullen and uncommunicative. Parents have to learn to loosen the reins yet not let go of them – not an easy thing to do.

My 15-year-old grandson doesn’t buy that his mother’s texted queries about what he’s doing and who he’s with are “just making conversation.”

But let’s face it, there are a lot of things parents and, by extension, grandparents have to worry about.

A story in The Forum on Thursday presented the results of the youth risk behavior survey conducted by the North Dakota Department of Public Instruction, following guidelines by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The CDC’s latest survey of 13,000 high school students reportedly showed that kids have cut some risky behaviors – and picked up others.

For example, cigarette smoking nationally is the lowest in 22 years: 15.7 percent of teens say they have smoked in the past month. The rates are higher in North Dakota, 19 percent, but actually lower than nationally in Fargo and West Fargo.

Nationally, the use of smokeless tobacco remains unchanged, and vaping with e-cigarettes is growing. Use of smokeless tobacco rose in North Dakota.

I hope my grandsons won’t be influenced by their peers, since neither of their parents have ever smoked cigarettes. I was a 22-year smoker (and I started as a teenager), but I quit a decade before my older grandson was born.

About 34 percent of teens in the CDC survey reported having sex in the past three months, a continued decline since 1991. That’s 10 percentage points lower than the North Dakota rate. But the CDC found that 41 of sexually active teens did not use a condom.

No comment from grandma on this subject. I’m leaving discussion of that particular issue to the boys’ parents.

The percentage of North Dakota students who were overweight or obese rose from 21.4 percent in 2001 to 28.6 percent in 2013, compared to national rates of 14 percent who were overweight and 17 percent who were obese.

Both of “my boys,” for whatever reason, are thin. As someone who has battled weight all my adult life, I hope they can stay that way. I’m sure the older one’s year-round sports involvement helps keep him slim.

Another issue that attracted my attention on the national survey was distracted driving, which is up. Forty-one percent of teens admitted to texting or emailing while they were behind the wheel.

I know the 15-year-old is following the rules because he can’t yet drive without a licensed driver in the passenger seat. That will change at the end of the month when he takes his driver’s test.

Since his phone is always close at hand, or in it, I worry about this issue. Right now he is very conscious of his driving habits because the all-important exam is looming.

Once he has that license, I guess we’ll have to depend on the teenager’s – hmm – good sense?