Because our generation is the first to grow up with iPhones and social media, we are a generation defined by our access to technology. People have more access to information about typically taboo subjects, like sex and drug use. By discussing and educating ourselves on these subjects, our generation has the lowest teenage pregnancy and alcohol or drug abuse rates in decades. Yet, at Burlingame, students seem to be engaging in the same behaviors as past generations, and to a greater extent.
The Youth Risk Behavior Survey found 14 percent of high school students nationally used illicit drugs in 2017, a decline from 22.6 percent in 2007. Comparatively, the 2017-2018 San Mateo Union Healthy Kids Survey revealed that 55 percent of high school seniors in our district used drugs or alcohol in their lifetime, 54 percent used illicit drugs to get high and 35 percent were engaged in drug or alcohol abuse on a regular basis.
“Drugs help me to disassociate from everything. It takes away the stress for a few hours and I can just sleep or relax without feeling all over the place,” one Burlingame junior said.
As colleges become increasingly competitive and academic pressure peaks, teenagers have to deal with hours of homework, college applications and involvement in various extracurriculars to build their resumes. So, they turn to alternative methods to deal with their scholastic stress. In our school, it’s the students taking five AP classes who use drugs most often, showing that drugs have morphed from a recreational habit to self-medication and escape.
The national survey found that 47.8 percent of students interviewed by the national survey in 2007 had had sex, while only 39.5 percent had by 2017. However, the Healthy Kids Survey does not provide statistics on Burlingame student’s sexual activity.
“Oh, in the fifties and sixties it was unheard of. Nobody talked about sex at all,” Health teacher Donna Krause said. Playboy and the occasional ‘dirty flic’ used to be the apex of a teenager’s access to sex, and social themes stigmatized sex into a shameful and condemned subject.
Our generation has an increased awareness of how society sees sex, creating a fear of stigma and making teenagers less inclined to engage in sexual activity. Mandatory health class and years of being told unrestricted sex and drugs are bad for us has made our generation more wary of the dangers of traditionally ‘unhealthy’ behaviors. Anti-smoking campaigns and urban legends about teenage ruin at the hands of drugs has led teenagers today to engage in fewer risky behaviors.
However, our generation also has access to sexually explicit movies, online pornography and the over-sexualization of women over social media. Pop culture reinforces a trend of seeking physical intimacy over real relationships through apps like Tinder and titles like ‘friends with benefits.’
“[Teenagers] are more into hooking up because sex is a biological need,” chemistry teacher Susan Marcan said. “You can date, but you're not developing relationships in the same way. You're getting the quick intimacy, but you're not doing the foundational work.”
While our generation shows an overall trend of engaging in fewer risky behaviors, contradictions on a local scale mean teenagers are participating in more sexual activity and drug use than before. As we grow up in this information era, awareness about sex and drugs is increasing, and the normalization of these behaviors is prevalent in Burlingame.