Adolescents living in high-poverty urban settings face complex challenges to their health and futures. These include pressures to engage in risk behaviors such as violence and early sexual initiation. The Center for Research on High Risk Behaviors in EDC’s Health and Human Development Programs (HHD) recently published three articles describing findings from the Reach for Health portfolio of studies that are designed to explore the interconnections of risk behaviors and test promising prevention approaches.
“This research is pivotal for addressing ongoing disparities in the physical and mental health of youth growing up in economically disadvantaged communities,” according to Lydia O’Donnell, Ed.D., who directs the center.
While a great deal of research has been devoted to studying interpersonal violence among urban youth, there is little information about suicidality in this population. To address this gap, “Aggressive Behaviors in Early Adolescence and Subsequent Suicidality among Urban Youths,” by O’Donnell and colleagues was published in the December 2005 issue of the Journal of Adolescent Health.
The article used data from the Reach for Health longitudinal study, which has followed a large sample of New York City African American and Latino youth from middle school into young adulthood. It examined whether youth who reported aggressive behaviors during middle school were more likely to report suicidal ideation and suicide attempts during high school. The research found that girls who engaged in aggressive behaviors such as fighting and weapon carrying during 8th grade were more likely to report suicidality in 11th grade. This connection between outer-directed and inner-directed violence was not observed among males. “Early warning signs of suicidality may differ by gender and require different interventions. In particular, our findings point to the need to pay greater attention to aggression among girls and its connection to mental health,” says O’Donnell.
Another important issue being addressed by HHD’s Center for Research on High Risk Behaviors is the early initiation of sexual intercourse among many urban youth. Early initiation is related to multiple health and social consequences and contributes to epidemic levels of sexually transmitted infections and the spread of HIV among minority young people.
The second paper, “Heterosexual Risk Behavior among Urban Young Adolescents” in the Journal of Early Adolescence explores heterosexual risk behaviors in a sample of urban fifth graders who are at risk for sexual initiation during middle school. The study highlights the importance of parenting practices, including monitoring and rule setting, on early heterosexual risk behaviors. Even as peer relationships become important, young adolescents look to parents for continued guidance and support.
O’Donnell says, “We hope these findings will contribute to parents’ understanding of the influence they have on what adolescents are likely to do.”
The third paper, “Saving Sex for Later: An Evaluation of a Parent Education Intervention,” was published in 2005 in the journal Perspectives on Sexual and Reproductive Health. Developed with extensive input from parents and youth, Saving Sex for Later consists of three audio CDs that use engaging and dramatic stories to model how parents can help their sons and daughters navigate the normal pubertal changes and the challenges of becoming a teenager and, importantly, help them stay abstinent during the critical early adolescent years.
This article details a randomized experimental trial that involved about 850 families with fifth- and sixth-grade students in New York City schools. The results show that listening the Saving Sex for Later CDs helped parents talk to their children about puberty, romantic relationships, and delaying sexual activity. Youth whose parents received the CDs reported more family rules, greater family support, and less risky behavior.
“Saving Sex for Later is a simple, promising intervention for promoting youth abstinence that is designed to reach busy parents at their convenience,” says Dr. O’Donnell.
Originally published on March 31, 2006