Busy Teens Stay Out of Trouble

Last week I provided some tips on keeping students safe, focusing primarily on elementary and middle school students. This week, I’d like to share some thoughts on how to keep high school students safe. The short answer is, "Keep them busy."

Both physical activity and extracurricular activity have been proven to improve academic achievement. Crime statistics show that the highest risk for a teenager becoming a victim of a violent crime is the hours immediately following the end of the school day. Studies also show that teenagers are more likely to engage in risky behaviors - smoke, drink, or do drugs - during these after school hours.

Common sense tells us that if teens are busy with productive activities, they are less likely to become a victim of a crime, or engage in dangerous activities.

Sometimes I hear people say there’s nothing to do in Ukiah. I can’t disagree more!

There are more opportunities in Ukiah than I can describe. There are school-sponsored activities like sports, performing arts, clubs, and academic tutoring. There are community-based activities like volunteering at the Boys & Girls Club and spending time at the Arbor on Main. Many local businesses offer teens part-time jobs.

Can’t think of anything? The Ukiah Daily Journal publishes volunteer opportunities every week.

The main idea is to get involved with something:

Sports (individual and team-based), Martial Arts, Performing Arts (dance, chorus, theater), Boys & Girls Club, learn to play an instrument (individual or part of a band/group), tutoring, Math-Engineering-Science-Achievement (MESA), organized high school clubs, 4-H, Future Farmers of America, BMX, Photography, Art (ceramics, drawing, painting, sculpture), and volunteering/service projects – lots of non-profits could use good help.

Each of these activities will help a teenager later, in getting a job, creating a resume’ or completing a college application.

While many teens with time on their hands make good choices, some don’t. We’d all like to think our teens won’t succumb to peer pressure or curiosity, but filling their time with positive activities reduces those opportunities for risky behavior. Studies show that teens who do not participate in after school activities are nearly three times more likely to skip classes or use marijuana or other drugs; they are also more likely to drink alcohol, smoke cigarettes and engage in unsafe sexual activity.

After school programs can also offer other intangibles – the opportunity to engage in activities that help young people realize they have something to contribute to the group; the opportunity to work with diverse peers and adults to create projects, performances, and presentations that receive accolades from their families and the larger community; and the opportunity to develop a vision of life's possibilities that with commitment and persistence, are attainable.

Finding a path as a teenager can be difficult; sometimes that path can be unsafe or destructive. Finding productive paths for the future is extremely important for teens. To start, "Keep them busy."

The data is clear – after school activities help prevent young people from committing, or becoming victims of a crime.

I’ll post this column on our website ( in case you’d like to refer to it later. Remember, our School Resource Officer and all Ukiah police officers are here to help you and your children. If you have questions or concerns about safety, please ask us.

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