By Elise Marlett, Current Staff
It has been determined that sophomores and juniors take more risks than students in other grade levels.
According to the results of the Youth Risk Behavior Survey administered in April to Washington County students, there are aspects about the transition between sophomore and junior year that increase the likelihood that students will engage in dangerous activities. Several students at the West Bend High Schools have thoughts on why this is a trend in the data.
Samantha Wagner, a sophomore at West Bend West High School, believes that the academic stressors of junior year lead students to take risks.
“In junior year, school becomes the most serious it has ever been,” Wagner said. “Between big tests like the ACT and looking at colleges, it can be one of the most stressful and nerve-wracking years of your whole school experience. Some kids do not know how to deal with that stress and responsibility. So some may turn to risk-taking behaviors to calm themselves or distract themselves from responsibilities that junior year brings into their lives.”
East sophomore Noelle Mentch thinks that students engage in more dangerous activities during this transition because there is an increase of pressure from adults at school.
“Adults breathe down the necks of students, asking them what they want to do with their life and where they want to go to college,” Mentch said. “I think that the transition between sophomore and junior year is especially difficult because this is the time that individuals usually start looking for jobs and start taking more time-consuming and difficult classes. All these things cause an immense amount of stress on individuals, which can lead to risk-taking behaviors.”
According to the survey report, 71.1 percent of students are sleeping less than eight hours a night, though it is recommended that a teenager gets eight or nine hours every night. Wagner confirms that she is anecdotal proof of this statistic, stating that her busy schedule prevents her from relaxing for more than an hour a day.
“I wake up feeling exhausted, go to school for hours, go to my clubs after school, and then do homework, which may take hours,” Wagner said. “I imagine there are numerous kids at my school who do the exact same.”
East sophomore Maya Doedens agrees that academic stressors increase the likelihood of students making poor choices, but mentions that peer pressure is also a factor.
“I think that most students around the sophomore or junior age range feel the most pressure to work hard in school and to earn good grades, but also it is a time of high pressure to fit in,” Doedens said. “I think that fitting in with others is maybe causing some peer pressure which can cause people to do activities or take risks that they would usually not consider.”
“Junior year can be one of the most stressful and nerve-wracking years of your whole school experience.”
– Samantha Wagner, West sophomore
However, Amanda Wisth, the health officer and interim director of the Public Health Department in Washington and Ozaukee County, believes that the correlation between this grade level transition and risky behavior could be caused by the addition of a driver’s license into the already hectic lives of the average teenager.
“Many people think that it is just because you get your driver’s license, maybe a little bit more freedom,” Wisth said.
West sophomore Julia Ramstack thinks that something as new and exciting as a driver’s license can be too overwhelming for new drivers, which leads them to make poor decisions.
“I think students feel they have more freedom and can do what they want,” Ramstack said.
Wisth added that because this survey has only been given once in West Bend, it is unknown if this is a serious trend to be considered or if this only applies to the specific group of students that were surveyed.
“I’ll be curious, if all the school districts keep doing (the survey), if that stays the same because you never know, maybe it’s this unique cohort of students that engage in more risky behaviors, we don’t really know,” Wisth said.
Wisth thinks that there needs to be more resources available to students who are making the transition from sophomore to junior year in order to reduce dangerous decision making. She stands firm in her belief that if support is given to the student body, risk taking will decrease.
“All of these health behaviors, there’s opportunity to decrease the negative behaviors and increase the positive ones, always,” Wisth said.
(This article is part of an ongoing series of stories about the 2018 Youth Risk Behavior Survey.)