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Risk behavior can start in middle school

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In the past week teenagers in our community have been made headlines for being involved with drugs and violence. Experts call this 'risk behavior' and recent statistics show that it's become the norm for that age group in New Hanover County. A survey conducted by UNC Wilmington found that nearly 60 percent of students in New Hanover County public schools have used marijuana by the time they're seniors. Psychology professor Caroline Clements led the study. She says many children start engaging in risk behavior as early as middle school. Among the findings more than 20 percent of eighth graders have already tried marijuana and close to 50 percent have tried alcohol. Keep in mind 8th graders are about 13 years old. The study also shows that violent and sexual behavior are becoming more common in younger age groups. She says the best way to combat this is educating children before these risk behaviors start taking place. Clements said, "The roots of these behaviors are laid early. And what that tells me in terms of policy is that our interventions need to be early. They certainly need to be earlier than middle school." Clements says this is a national crisis. Statistics from New Hanover are for the most part no worse -- and no better -- than the rest of the country. Clements said children should be educated about sex, drugs and violence no later than fifth grade. She also emphasized that young children engaging in such behavior is not a school problem, but a community problem... And that it needs to be addressed before it gets worse.

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