Julia Steiny: Meet the Class of 2013 Through Child Trends’ Lens

by Julia Steiny

The mortarboards have been tossed. The “Congratulations Grad” balloons have withered. Grandma’s gift check has been cashed — and likely spent. In short, the high-school class of 2013 is launched into official adulthood.

So, who are they?

Julia Steiny

Child Trends, a respected research group, crunched massive national data sets to paint us a portrait of these grads. To make the data easily understandable, they boiled it down to a summary class of 100 grads. (You can also think in terms of percents. For example, 11 of the 100 kids or 11 percent of the sampled grads have asthma.) The point of this statistical exercise is to help us wrap our heads around who’s coming out of the nation’s high schools these days.

Every newly-minted adult has a lot to figure out. But quite apart from the super-yucky job market, the class of 2013 seems to be facing a ton of adversity. See for yourself.

Since there’s so much data, I’ve curated a collection, “curating” being the useful new buzzword for making personal selections.

If the 3 million-plus grads were 100 kids, their backgrounds would be:

54 white; 23 Latino; 15 African American, and 8 are something else.

22 are living in poverty; 10 in deep poverty

The goodish news:

68 will go on to a college or university.

53 have parents who say their neighborhood is “always safe.”

51 used no alcohol, cigarettes, or illicit drugs during the past 30 days.

38 have a reading achievement-test score of “proficient or above.”

35 volunteered in the past year.

35 eat meals together with their families 6 or 7 days a week.

26 have a mathematics achievement-test score of “proficient or above.”

17 are employed.

Safety:

71 have experienced physical assault.

27 were in a physical fight last year.

28 rode in a car during the past year with a driver who had been drinking.

16 carried a weapon in the past year.

3 were victims of violent crime in the past year.

Sex ‘n drugs:

64 have had sexual intercourse; 48 are sexually active.

27 used a condom and 12 were on birth control pills the last time they had sex.

28 have been victimized sexually; 10 report they’ve been raped.

23 smoked marijuana in the past 30 days; 7 smoke marijuana every day, or nearly every day.

21 had a sexually transmitted infection in the past year.

8 used an illicit drug other than marijuana in the past 30 days.

Of the females, 3 or 4 have been, or are, pregnant. One has had an abortion.

Abuse and Neglect:

32 have experienced some form of child maltreatment.

1 or two are in foster care.

Health:

34 are overweight. and of these 18 are obese.

29 felt “sad and hopeless” continuously for at least two weeks during the past year.

24 were binge-drinking in the past two weeks.

18 have special health care needs.

17 are current cigarette smokers.

14 thought seriously about attempting suicide in the past year; 6 went through with the attempt; and 2 required medical attention afterward.

11 have asthma.

8 have unmet dental needs.

4 have an eating disorder where they’ve vomited or taken laxatives to lose weight.

2 have ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder).

1 used steroids in the past year.

Really? To my mind, Child Trends has laid bare that the richest country in the world just doesn’t bother to take very good care of the kids, or at least a huge number of kids. Far too many are depressed and fat. Almost half have used alcohol, drugs or smoked cigarettes in the last 30 days. More than 1 in 5 was treated for a sexually-transmitted disease last year? Sheesh.

That’s an awful lot of baggage for a kid to carry into the future. You would think we could do at least a somewhat better job of sending young people off to solo as adults.

What I find most painful about the continued sad state of America’s kids — no, not the marvelously well-kept third to a half, but the rest of them — is that they’re someone else’s problem. Blame abounds; responsibility does not. Even if you really do believe that these messed-up kids are the parents’ fault, or the schools’ fault, they are still members of our community and our workforce, now and for the foreseeable future.

Hopefully Child Trends will do this exercise every year to hold us — and I mean all of us — accountable for making things better for kids as a whole.

You bet I’m a drag at social events. I think and talk a lot about how we’re not adequately loving, disciplining and caring for the kids. Such neglect is expensive in the long run in so many respects. It’s at all times inexcusable. Child Trends totally kicked up my obsession with this topic. Shame on us.

Julia Steiny is a freelance columnist who also blogs about Restorative Practices and Restorative Justice.  After serving on the Providence School Board, she became the Providence Journal’s education columnist for 16 years, and has written for many other outlets.  As the founding director of the Youth Restoration Project, she’s been building demonstration projects in Rhode Island since 2008.  She analyses data and provides communications consulting on Information Works! and the RIDataHUB, through The Providence Plan.  For more detail, seejuliasteiny.com or contact her at juliasteiny@gmail.com or 24 Corliss Street #40022, Providence, RI 02904.

Julia Steiny
Julia Steiny is a freelance columnist writing about kids and schools through the lens of Restorative Practices and Restorative Justice. Currently she is Project Manager for a National Institute of Justice grant to study the effectiveness of restorative conferencing programs now being implemented in six Rhode Island Schools. Steiny is the founding director of the Youth Restoration Project, the design partner in the grant. After serving a term on the Providence School Board, for 16 years she wrote the Providence Journal's weekly education column. Since 1998, she has consulted with The Providence Plan on data analysis and communications, helping to develop Information Works! for the RI Department of Education and the RIDataHUB. For more, see juliasteiny.com or contact her at juliasteiny@youthrestorationproject.org. The Youth Restoration Project has a Facebook page with news and resources on the Restoration movement in the US and internationally.
Julia Steiny