Survey: Electronic bullying on the rise

LIHUE — Kauai high school students are making some of the right choices when it comes to their health and well-being, but some improvement is still needed.

That’s according to the 2015 Hawaii Youth Risk Behavior Survey, which shows trends toward less-risky behaviors in many important areas, and highlights necessary improvements in others.

Nearly 15 percent of Kauai high school students reported being electronically bullied, and more than 20 percent reported they had purposely hurt themselves.

In 2015, 29.5 percent of high school students reported feeling sad or hopeless almost every day for two or more weeks in a row at least once in their lifetime. Rates of attempted suicide over the past 12 months has steadily decreased since 1993, but remain unacceptably high at 11 percent.

Three Kauai high schools participated in the YRBS, a bi-annual survey put out by the Hawaii Department of Health and the Hawaii Department of Education that monitors health risk behaviors of public school students in all four counties. Seventy-six percent of students from Kauai high schools responded to the survey questions.

“This data shows that we are improving as a state in many areas,” said Virginia Pressler, director of health. “However, the sharp rise in the use of electronic cigarettes reminds us of the importance of continually monitoring student behavior.”

Topics covered in the survey include unintentional injuries and violence; tobacco, alcohol and other drug use; sexual behaviors that contribute to unintended pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV infection; unhealthy dietary behaviors; and physical inactivity. The survey also monitors the percentages of students affected by obesity and asthma, according to a release from HIDOH.

“The results reflect our recent initiatives to raise the bar at all levels in education,” said Hawaii DOE Superintendent Kathryn Matayoshi. “The downward trend of students engaging in risky behaviors and an increase in healthy choices is testament to the work done by our schools and the commitment of our students to strive higher.”

Physical fighting continues to decline, with 15 percent of high school students reporting that they were in a fight at least once during the 12 months before the survey. Bullying has stayed relatively steady, with one in five high school students reporting that they were bullied on school property during the same time period.

While health officials are concerned about the number of students who reported using e-cigarettes, Kauai had the lowest rates of users in the four counties, according to the YRBS report. On Kauai, 18.1 percent of students said they used e-cigarettes. On the other islands, prevalence ranged from 32.5 percent on Maui, 29.5 percent on Hawaii and 23.4 percent on Oahu.

Nearly 15 percent of Hawaii’s high school students said they had been electronically bullied, including being bullied through e-mail, chat rooms, instant messaging, websites or texting during the 12 months before the survey. Across the counties, the prevalence ranged from 13.9 percent (Honolulu) to 16.4 percent (Kauai and Maui). The prevalence for Kauai County increased from 10.4 percent in 2013 to 16 percent in 2015.

As far as behaviors that contribute to violence, 10.4 percent of Kauai students reported not carrying a weapon, such as a gun, knife or club. That number is a 6 percent decrease from 2013. Kauai schools saw a decrease in the number of students getting into a fight; being purposefully controlled or emotionally hurt; seriously considering suicide; attending school under the influence of drugs or alcohol.

Kauai schools saw the smallest percentage of students reporting self-inflicted wounds. According to the data, 20.8 percent of students reported to have hurt themselves within a year of the survey, a 0.3 percent decrease from 2013. The Big Island saw the most students hurting themselves, coming in at 25.5 percent.

Students on Kauai also reported a lower use of marijuana, inhalants, Ecstasy and prescription drugs, but saw a 2.6 percent increase in the use of heroin.

“We will continue to work in partnership with HIDOE to ensure that our programs and interventions target these emerging issues,” Pressler said.

Survey procedures protect students’ privacy by allowing for anonymous and voluntary participation. The data is gathered from students in public high schools across the state of Hawaii.

“The results of this report indicate a need for continued statewide and county-level monitoring of health-risk behaviors among high school students in Hawaii’s public schools. Ideally all youth, including charter and private schools, statewide should be monitored,” the report said.

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