Growing Up With Media: Mental health and psychosocial indicators


Sexual Behavior:

At Wave 3, a question was added to the survey instrument to query lifetime sexual intercourse experience based upon that included in the YRBS.10  Sixteen percent of respondents (NWave3= 165), who were 12-17 years of age at the time, reported ever having had sexual intercourse.


Among youth who have had sexual intercourse, the modal age of first sexual intercourse was 15 years old (32%), followed by 14 years old (21%) and 16 years old (21%); the mean age of first sex was 14 years old(SE = 0.41).

Among youth who have had sexual intercourse, use of a condom at last sexual encounter was common.


Of youth who reported that they had ever sexual intercourse (NWave3 = 165 [male=77; female=88]), nearly 8 of every 10 youth reported using a condom with their partner the last time they had sex. This is reassuring given that condom use is the best way to prevent sexually transmitted infections among sexually active individuals.

On the other hand, 21% of youth did not use a condom they last time they had sex.  Furthermore, among these sexually active youth, females were twice as likely as males to report not using a condom the last time they had sexual intercourse. This suggests efforts to empower females both directly as well as indirectly through messaging to males, is needed to increase condom use in this vulnerable population.


This bulletin provides a rare, comprehensive view of the psychosocial functioning of young people as they grow from children into adolescents.  Overall, the news is good:  most young people report positive relationships with their caregivers and consistent parental monitoring; most have strong social support either from a friend or a special person, or both; most are doing well academically, and actually like school; few are getting suspended or expelled.  Depressive symptomatology, propensity to respond to stimuli with anger, and frequent substance use are not common among the adolescents in the Growing up with Media study.  All told: most of our young people seem to be healthfully navigating adolescence.

These data make clear too however, that there is a minority of young people who are struggling.  We need to do a better job of identifying and reaching out to young people who need help; and in doing so, not stigmatizing them, or vilifying adolescents or adolescence.

As a parenthetical note: Findings also provide insight into social support online and offline.  Most youth do not report knowing anyone online that they do not know offline.  Furthermore, of those who do have friends online, social support does not seem to be as strong.  Thus, although the Internet is a source of new friends, it is more frequently a source of enrichment and reinforcement of existing (offline) relationships.


1.Lenhart A, Madden M, Hitlin P. Teens and technology: Youth are leading the transition to a fully wired and mobile nation. Washington, DC: Pew Internet and American Life;  2005. Available at:

2. Roberts DF, Foehr UG, Rideout V. Generation M: Media in the lives of 8-18 year olds. Menlo Park, CA: The Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation;  2005. Available at:

3. Wilson B, Kunkel D, Linz D, et al. Violence in television programming overall: University of California, Santa Barbara study. In: Seawall M, ed. National television violence study. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications; 1998:3-184.

4. Finkelhor D, Mitchell KJ, Wolak J. Online victimization: A report on the nation’s youth. Alexandria, VA: National Center for Missing & Exploited Children;  2000. Available at:

5. Zimet GD, Powell SS, Farley GK, Werkman S, Berkoff KA. Psychometric characteristics of the Multidimensional Scale of Perceived Social Support. J Pers Assess.1990;55(3-4):610-617.

6. Office of the Surgeon General. Youth Violence: A Report of the Surgeon General. Rockville, MD: U. S. Department of Health and Human Services;  2002. Available at:

7. Forgays DG, Forgays DK, Speilberger CD. Factor structure of the State-Trait Anger Expression Inventory. J Pers Assess.1997;69(3):497-507.

8. Eaton WW, Muntaner C, Smith C, Tien A, Ybarra ML. Center for Epidemiologic Studies Depression Scale: Review and revision (CESD and CESD-R). In: Maruish ME, ed. The Use of Psychological Testing for Treatment Planning and Outcomes Assessment. 3rd ed. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum; 2004:363-377.

9. American Psychiatric Association. Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (DSM-IV-TR). 4th ed. Washington, DC: American Psychiatric Association;2000.

10. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance — United States, 2005. MMWR Surveill Summ.2006;55(SS05):1-108.


The GuwM Study was funded by a Cooperative Agreement with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (U49/CE000206; PI: Ybarra).  Points of view or opinions in this bulletin are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the official position of policies of the Centers for Disease Control.

We would like to thank the entire Growing up with Media Study team: Internet Solutions for Kids, Harris Interactive, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, and the CDC, who contributed to the planning and implementation of the study.  Finally, we thank the families for their time and willingness to participate in this study.

Other Bulletins in this Series:                    

  • Methodological Details
  • Parent and Youth Media Use Patterns
  • Parent and Youth Reported Household Rules Characteristics
  • Exposure to Violence and Sex in Media
  • Youth Violence Victimization and Perpetration

Selection of Other Publications:

Ybarra, M.L., Diener-West, M., Markow, D., Leaf, P.J., Hamburger, M., & Boxer, P. Linkages between internet and other media violence with seriously violent behavior by youth. Pediatrics. 2008;122(5):929-937

Ybarra, M.L., & Mitchell, K.J. How risky are social networking sites? A comparison of places online where youth sexual solicitation and harassment occurs. Pediatrics. 2008;121:e350-e357.

Center for Innovative Public Health Research: Center for Innovative Public Health Research is a non-profit research organization in the United States centered on understanding the impact on and opportunities for adolescent health represented by new technologies.  For, if we are to affect young people, we must go to where they “are”.  Our mission is to promote new and innovative methods that improve the health and safety of young people.  We believe a multi-pronged approach is necessary, with survey and epidemiological research alongside active youth intervention and prevention efforts.

This bulletin was prepared jointly by (in alphabetical order): Dr. Josephine Korchmaros, Ms. Tonya Prescott, and Dr. Michele Ybarra.

Suggested citation:  Center for Innovative Public Health Research (CiPHR). Growing up with Media: Mental Health and Psychosocial Indicators.San Clemente, CA: CiPHR. Health_Apr-2013.pdf.  UpdatedApril 2013. [User access date].

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