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Teen study offers encouragement

I've long awaited the opportunity to write a column that has more positive comments than negatives. My notes indicated this will be along those lines. But more gratifying and surprising is that the positives revolve around teenage behavior and habits, areas that for the most part recently have come in for much criticism.

Various federal agencies have indicated a shift in the behavior of the younger generation that all of us old timers can heartedly applaud and endorse, with the hope that the trends will continue.

For the first time since 2003 the percentage of high school students who reported having sexual intercourse dropped -- down now from 54 percent in 1991 to 53 percent. That's still too high a rate, but a positive factor is that 63 percent said they used condoms during sex. In 1991 only 46 percent said they used condoms.

The increased use of condoms likely resulted in another plus. The teenage birth rate was 21 per 1,000 young women ages 15 to 17, an all-time low that will ultimately result in fewer abortions and a lower number of abandoned babies. The rate in 1991 was 39 births per 1,000 teenagers.

On the negative side is the finding that the number of children covered by health insurance decreased from 90 percent in 2006 to 89 percent in 2005.

Other studies I have reviewed indicate that the number of children who have no health insurance numbers in the millions. Most of the candidates for the presidency in 2008 say they will try to rectify that.

A positive reported by the various agencies is that 60 percent of children from ages 3 to 5 were read to daily by family members in 2005, an increase from 53 percent in 1993. Earlier studies have shown this enhances a youngster's development significantly.

Another significant finding was that in 2005 a total of 88 percent of young adults had completed high school, compared with 84 percent in 1980. Given my past reading on that subject, I challenge these numbers, although I'm sure there has been some improvement in the numbers of those who stay in school long enough to graduate.

A disturbing study by the Kennedy Center at Harvard reports that most teenagers and adults 30 and younger do not follow the news daily, a decidedly negative finding. The report said that only 16 percent of young adults between the ages of 18 to 30 said they read a newspaper daily, and only 9 percent of teenagers said they did.

Thomas Patterson, professor of government and press at Harvard, says that, "the findings in readership indicate that what happened over time is that we've become more of a viewing nation than a reading nation. My sense is that, like it or not, the future of news is going to be in the electronic media."

I don't disagree one iota with the professor, but I would add that it's not a healthy situation.

If it is true, as I believe it is, our younger generation will lose the reading habit and ultimately will give up on reading of books. That doesn't bode well for the nation.

The younger generation of today is the older generation of the future. Its members should develop reading habits so they can fully participate in our democracy.

There is too much material of value that can only be found in books and will not be transferred to the electronic media. We need a thinking generation.

Murray B. Light is the former editor of The Buffalo News

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