Survey provides profile of Groton-Dunstable teen health and safety


It’s used to create effective health programs focused on the issues most relevant in area schools. It also helps the communities as a whole identify focus areas to promote positive youth development in partnership with the schools.

* Internet safety

The results show that one in four Groton-Dunstable high-schoolers admitted to giving out personal data over the Internet to someone they had never met. Also, 17 percent of students admitted to having met someone in person with whom they initially had contact over the Internet.

At the middle-school level, 7 percent of sixth-graders and 19 percent of eighth-graders reported giving out personal data over the Internet to someone they had never met, while 6 percent of sixth-graders and 11 percent of eighth-graders admitted to having met someone in person with whom they’d met online.

* Sexual behavior

No questions on sexual behavior are included in the sixth-grade survey. The 2006 data reflects relatively no change in the last eight years of the number of students reporting that they ever had sexual intercourse.

Of those high-school students surveyed the percentages who reported that they’d had sexual intercourse were 31 percent in 2000 and 34 percent in 2002, 2004 and 2006.

In 2006, 8 percent of students in eighth grade reported that they’d had sexual intercourse, compared to 9 percent in 2004.

The National Center of Health Statistics reports that slightly more than half of American teenagers have engaged in oral sex, and young people, particularly from middle- and upper-middle-class Caucasian families, don’t consider oral sex to be a serious issue.

For this reason, new questions on oral sex were added to the survey in 2006. A total of 42 percent of Groton-Dunstable students reported having either given or received oral sex, compared with the average of 36 percent for all of the seven participating communities.

* Alcohol and tobacco use

Teen smoking among Groton-Dunstable students is at a record low with only 30 percent of students reporting that they ever tried a cigarette and only 15 percent reporting a recent use of cigarettes.

The Massachusetts statewide percent is much higher, with 51 percent reporting having tried cigarettes and 21 percent reporting recent use. While progress has been significant in this decade, the declines have slowed.

The results also indicate that Groton-Dunstable high-schoolers and eighth-graders who use cigarettes are almost three times more likely to use alcohol.

The use of alcohol among Groton-Dunstable students continues to decline. From 2000 to 2006, high-schoolers reporting recent alcohol use decreased from 58 percent to 43 percent.

Survey results indicate that students participating in team sports are slightly more likely to use alcohol. Of the students who admit to recent alcohol use, 44 percent play a team sport.

Results for eighth-graders indicate that recent alcohol use has also declined from 26 percent in 2000 to 17 percent in 2006. Results for sixth-grade students indicate that alcohol use has declined from 11 percent in 2000 to 7 percent in 2006.

Students’ perceptions of peer alcohol use are much higher than reported actual behaviors. This finding is significant in that correcting these misperceptions is an important step in reducing alcohol and drug use.

Perceptions of marijuana use are also significantly higher than reported actual use. In 2006, 23 percent of Groton-Dunstable high-school students reported the recent use of marijuana, which is down from 37 percent in 2002.

Approximately 3 percent of eighth-graders reported the recent use of marijuana, reflecting a steady decline from 7 percent in 2002.

In 2006, no sixth-grade students reported recent marijuana use.

The survey results report that in grades eight to 12, Groton-Dunstable students who reported riding with an impaired driver were 5 percent, 9 percent, 17 percent, 26 percent and 34 percent, respectively.

Further, reports of students being offered, sold or given illegal drugs on school property at the middle- and high-school levels has shown continuous declines since 2002. At the high school level, 21 percent of the students reported being offered drugs on school property, down from 45 percent in 2002. At the eighth-grade level, 6 percent of the students reported being offered drugs, down from 22 percent in 2002.

Reports of Groton-Dunstable students who have reported attending parties in homes in Groton and Dunstable where teens were allowed to use alcohol also show declines. At the eighth-grade level, 8 percent of students reported attending such parties, down from 12 percent in 2002. At the high-school level, the figure dropped from 38 percent in 2002 to 31 percent in 2006.

* Groton-Dunstable schools are safer

The number of Groton-Dunstable high-school students who reported having been threatened or injured by someone with a weapon on school property was 4 percent, at the same level as the average for surrounding communities. Additionally, 7 percent of high-schoolers reported that they had been sexually harassed in school during the past year. This figure is down from 13 percent in 2002.

Bullying in high school was reported at 14 percent, which is below the state average of 24 percent. At the middle school, 25 percent of sixth-graders and 21 percent of eighth-graders reported being bullied in school. Both of the results are slightly lower than surrounding communities.

The results support recent school practices to prevent these behaviors. At the same time, any violence-related behaviors are a concern and steps will continue to be taken to prevent violence and conflict in the schools.

* Role of gender in risky behavior

Gender differences were found to be important for some of the risk behaviors being studied at the high school level. Recent alcohol use was reported equally, at 43 percent for males and females. However, recent marijuana use shows significant differences, at 31 percent for males and 15 percent for females. Recent sexual behavior was reported almost equally at about 25 percent for males and females. However, the results of students reporting that they’ve given or received oral sex indicated gender differences, at 46 percent for males and 38 percent for females.

A report of the Groton-Dunstable 2006 Emerson Hospital Youth Risk Behavior Survey will be presented to the Groton-Dunstable Regional School Committee Feb. 7 in the high-school library. A community-wide forum to review and discuss the results will be held Feb. 27, at 7 p.m., in the high school’s Black Box Theater. It will also be aired on public access. The full report can be viewed at after Feb. 7.

For information contact Dr. Judy Robinson, Groton-Dunstable health coordinator, at (978) 448-6362, ext. 1132, or e-mail