Data show positive skill-building improves Anchorage youth behavior

Anchorage Indicators Report Public Version (4-2015)-page-012
A small portion of the data compiled by Anchorage Youth Development Coalition.

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Newly compiled data show kids in Anchorage are better behaved than they were 20 years ago. A comparison of data from 1995 and 2013 shows teenagers are participating in fewer risky behaviors like smoking, drinking, and unprotected sex. And for many measures, they’re doing better than the national average.

Twenty years ago, behavioral health research started to show that if you want teenagers to behave, stop nagging them. Michael Kerosky with the Anchorage Youth Development Coalition says there’s an easier way.

“If we could just help kids build on their strengths, increase their social emotional skills, give them more caring adults, give them more opportunities to contribute, meaningful opportunities, feeling support, having caring teachers. A whole bunch of things,” Kerosky lists.

“If we did all of that, then all of the negative behaviors go down. We don’t have to talk about alcohol, we don’t have to talk about suicide, we don’t have to talk about depression. All we have to do is build on these strengths.”

So a group of youth-focused organizations in Anchorage did just that. And new data shows it might be working. Teens in Anchorage used to rank higher than the national average for considering suicide, experiencing sexual violence, smoking pot, and feeling unsafe at school. Now, they rank lower or equal for most risk factors.

The data is based mostly on the Center for Disease Control’s Youth Risk Behavior Survey, which is self-reported. But Kerosky says that doesn’t make it invalid.

The CDC has “gone to great lengths to make sure the survey is reliable and valid. They have all kinds of checks and balances built in so if the kids mark random questions the computer can pick that up and throw them out.”

Kerosky says it’s not only supportive families, teachers, schools, and youth agencies that can help strengthen kids’ resilience.

“All of us have a role. Even if you don’t have kids, you certainly see kids in the neighborhood. You don’t have to go overboard but just waving. I use the example of a bagger in the grocery store. Just look at their name tags and say, ‘Hi Sam!’ or ‘Hi Joni!’ Every kid loves to hear that.”

You can see all the stats here.

You can also check out data compiled by UAA that’s being used to develop behavioral health solutions.

Anne Hillman is the healthy communities editor at Alaska Public Media and a host of Hometown, Alaska. Reach her at Read more about Anne here.

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