Reasons to be optimistic

You read about them in the paper nearly every day.

You see their names in The Daily News Academic Achievers section.

The faces of selected seniors are displayed every year on the front page.

Who are they? They are our children, our grandchildren, and the children and grandchildren of our friends and neighbors.

They are the leaders of tomorrow, and according to the latest surveys, they are not young hooligans terrorizing the streets.

In fact, they are doing quite well, thank you.

Results from the biennial Youth Risk Behavior Survey are very encouraging. There are reasons to be optimistic. The Wisconsin Department of Public instruction recently released the results from the 2013 Wisconsin Youth Risk Behavior Survey.

The survey asked high school students questions related to traffic safety, weapons and violence, suicide, tobacco use, alcohol and other drugs, sexual behaviors, nutrition and physical exercise as well as assets, the positive influences that protect against risky behaviors.

The outcome may surprise you.

Student cigarette smoking dropped from 32 percent in 1993 to 12 percent reported in the 2013.

In fact, trends over 20 years also show declines in the onset and current use of alcohol and binge drinking, declines in fighting and carrying weapons, and declines in suicidal thoughts.

Students have increased their seatbelt use and increased their physical activity.

In addition, most students abstain from sexual activity and, over the 20 years of the survey, the percentage of students who report they have had sexual intercourse has dropped.

Most students say they feel safe at school, feel as though they belong, and have a teacher or another adult at school they can talk to if they have a problem.

These are significant findings, especially the declines in tobacco use, officials said.

“The decline in youth cigarette use is good news for our students’ health,” said Wisconsin State Superintendent Tony Evers. “Tobacco prevention activities in school along with smoke-free laws and cigarette tax increases have had a positive impact on use. We need to pay attention to funding for youth tobacco prevention initiatives, which has been declining, lest we see this positive trend erode.”

Unfortunately, our world is not Utopia. Our teens continue to have some issues.

The survey shows the extremely hazardous habit texting while driving is out of control.

More than half of 11th- and 12th-grade students report they participate in this treacherous behavior that many experts call as risky as drunk driving.

Also, some 15 percent of these students admit to drinking and driving, and 45 percent of students believe that bullying and harassment are problems in school.

Too many students still don’t get enough physical activity, eat the recommended amount of vegetables, or get enough sleep.

Though youth suicide data is improving, the suicide rate for youth in Wisconsin consistently exceeds the national average, the survey shows.

Overall, though, it appears we are on the right track.

First, to the parents out there, congratulations, you are teaching your children well.

Secondly, don’t relax.

You still have some work to do.