Society changes over the years and issues that plagued us 20 years ago diminish as new problems arise. A national study looking at risky behavior by students shows youth confronting new demons.

The study found fewer North Dakota students are involved in underage sex, drinking, tobacco and distracted driving. That’s good news. On the downside, more students are attempting suicide and electronic bullying is rising.

The number of North Dakota students who reportedly attempted suicide went up from 12 percent in 2013 to 14 percent this year, according to the national Youth Risk Behavior Survey Results by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The number of attempted suicides has been on the rise since 2005.

About 2,100 random North Dakota students from 61 public schools took the survey and it indicated electronic bullying increased to 19 percent. Feelings of hopelessness reached a decade high of nearly 29 percent among high school students. Why are so many young people feel so down?

Unfortunately, there are still too many broken homes, families struggling financially and drug problems, especially with the increase in opiates. North Dakota has traditionally ranked high in binge drinking, especially among youth. That can lead to depression and thoughts of suicide.

Schools can’t be expected to resolve all the problems, but they can play a role.

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Kirsten Baesler, state superintendent for the Department of Public Instruction, says the state has a policy on bullying but still needs to make a cultural shift to let people know bullying is not acceptable.

It’s a difficult situation for school districts. How do you monitor whether a student is bullying someone through their smartphone and what’s the school’s authority if it happens after school? Students are encouraged to report bullying if it happens to them or someone else. Not all kids are willing to do so.

Schools across the state have been bringing in speakers to address issues confronting students. Groups such as Students Against Destructive Decisions, SADD, have worked with students to avoid alcohol, drugs and other bad decisions. Last month Taylor Berhow talked to Mandan High School students about how his driving drunk resulted in the deaths of three of his friends. Berhow, 29, is a MHS graduate and serving a prison sentence for the fatal accident.

It’s going to take action like this inside and outside the schools to stop bullying and suicides. As a society we should be able to teach our children that bullying is wrong. The behavior survey shows us the problems, now we have to find the solutions.

— Bismarck (N.D.) Tribune

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