Stereotyped Perceptions of Adolescents' Health Risk Behaviors
AbstractAre youths, particularly youths of color, engaged in high levels of health risk behaviors, and is public perception regarding these behaviors accurate? In answer to the 1st question, 2 analytic samples were drawn: (a) 14–15-year-old 9th graders ( N = 94) from the Puerto Rican Adolescent study, conducted in the greater Boston area, and (b) 14–15-year-old 9th graders ( N = 876) from the Massachusetts 1995 Youth Risk Behavior (YRB) survey. The samples were used to determine the comparative levels of health risk behaviors in 3 areas: intimate relations, substance use, and violence. The Puerto Rican adolescents reported being engaged in significantly less substance abuse and violence than did the adolescents of the Massachusetts YRB survey. To address the 2nd question of public perception, a 3rd, community sample of Boston-area professionals and college students ( N = 99) estimated the percentages of Puerto Rican 9th graders' and Massachusetts 9th graders' participation in health risk behaviors. With the exception of engaging in sexual relations, where the community estimate and the Puerto Rican self-reports were nearly equal, the community sample overestimated the Puerto Rican youths' levels of participation in every other area of risk. Moreover, the community sample overestimated the Massachusetts 9th graders' behaviors with regard to failing to use contraception and school safety. Methodological considerations of self-report data are considered, and the implications of the stereotypic views of adolescents are discussed.