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Study shows healthier, but distracted teens

A new study on risky teen behavior released last week contains both good and bad news — along with a message.

On the positive side, American teens are smoking less, drinking less and fighting less. More of them are also wearing bicycle helmets and seat belts.

Among the findings: Fewer than 16 percent of the 13,000 U.S. high school students surveyed smoked a cigarette in the previous month, the lowest level since the survey began in 1991. Fights at school fell by half in the past 20 years. Most forms of drug use, weapon use and risky sex are also on the decline.

“Overall, young people have more healthy behaviors than they did 20 years ago,” said Dr. Stephanie Zaza, who oversees the study at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

But on the flip side, teens are so preoccupied with video games, computers and cell phones, that it’s pulling them more and more away from the “real world” and into danger as well.

The study showed that among drivers, 41 percent said they had texted or e-mailed behind the wheel in the previous month.

The proportion of teens who spend three or more hours on an average school day on video or computer games or using a computer or smartphone for something other than school work surged to 41 percent, a 10 percent increase from 2011.

Many young people probably don’t fully realize all the time they spend with their electronic devices. It’s just a way to spend time, have fun and catch up with friends.

Perhaps the time spent peering at electronic screens and sending texts is filling a void that was once filled by smoking, drinking or other unhealthy behavior. That’s not entirely good news, however, because the risks of texting while driving is every bit as dangerous as driving under the influence of alcohol. It’s why many states, including Minnesota, have made it illegal for drivers of all ages to text while driving. It’s also illegal for teens younger than age 18 to use a cell phone in any way if they’re driving.

The study should also cause us to pause and consider the enormous amount of time teens spend behind keyboards, video-game controls and cell phones. It’s how four out of 10 teens spend three or more hours every day.

That doesn’t leave much time for connecting in the real world. This summer, we challenge young people to stow away their electronic gadgets for just a few hours and try something new — like having face-to-face conversations with friends, parents or relatives, or taking a walk or bike ride, or enjoying the outdoors, or volunteering for a local cause or organization, or writing in a diary or journal, or doing odd jobs for a neighbor, or meeting new people, or just hanging out with friends in the real world. They may be virtually amazed at just how much they’ve been missing. — Alexandria Echo Press