Hines Sight / Open the dialogue and save kids' lives
Published 6:15 am, Thursday, March 31, 2011
I don't remember ever having a conversation with my parents when I was a teenager about the perils of drinking alcohol and taking drugs. I do remember being lectured about riding in cars alone with boys and talking to strangers.
It's been a lot of years since I was a teenager, but I remember the 1960s well. I was just entering my teen years at the height of the experimental, freedom-fused '60s. Memories of televised reports of the drug-laden, muddy, music-filled Woodstock weekend still pop up in my head. My older brother was there too.
Maybe my parents never felt they needed to have the discussion with me about avoiding alcohol, drugs and cigarettes. Maybe they thought I'd never become lured into that world. There was one time when I was at a slumber party with some neighborhood girls who were a little older than me and we smoked cigarettes and drank whiskey. I felt so lousy from the alcohol and cigarette hangover on my walk back home the next morning that my parents didn't have to reprimand me even if they had found out what I'd done.
I guess the conversation was not needed; I turned out OK. But that hasn't been the case with others. I have watched as some people have destroyed their lives with excessive use of alcohol and drugs. I have seen parents suffer from the loss of a son or daughter because he or she took too many chances. My message to young people: Don't do that to your parents and other loved ones because the pain and anguish they experience are heart-wrenching. I'm not sure repeated dialogue between those parents and their kids would have changed anything. In fact, some of them did talk to their kids, but the kids strayed anyway.
So it was with great interest when I read the recently released findings of the 2010 Community Survey, sponsored by the Fairfield Cares Task Force and Positive Directions of Westport. The results give eye-opening perceptions of parents' notions about teens' alcohol and drug use and the youth's comparative reality. The survey took the results of one in 2008 taken by youth through RYASAP, a regional substance abuse prevention program, and compared them to the recent adults' questionnaire. The findings can be found on the town's website, www.fairfieldct.org, under the link for the task force.
As explained in the summary, "one key finding was that parents of high school youth may significantly underestimate the use of both cigarettes and alcohol by their children. Further analysis suggested that this disparity is likely to be due to a relative lack of awareness by parents, not a fortuitous over-sampling of parents whose children really do not use cigarettes or alcohol." Additionally, about 95 percent of adults felt that "regular smoking or drinking is very harmful to teenagers. Fewer, about 85 percent, felt as strongly about regular marijuana use, and fewer still, about 60 percent, felt great harm results from drinking only once or twice a month."
I won't get into all the specific results as there are many, but it is safe to say that there is a disparity between what parents know and what kids are doing.
The good news, though, is that parents are talking to their kids about the dangers and most of them have clear rules about alcohol and drug use. Whether or not that is getting through to all kids in all families really is unknown. Parents and kids differ on how often or accessible alcohol and drugs can be. (Apparently, according to a number of parents' comments included in the results, a liquor store in Bridgeport sells to minors or kids buy it on the street with the help of people older than they.)
Parents are looking for ways to boost their knowledge and their kids' knowledge about underage drinking and drug use. Many fortunately say they get information from the high schools and the PTAs.
Where do we go from here? -- which is the question posed by the survey sponsors in a Power Point presentation they offered in March. To guide Fairfield toward stemming and preventing underage risky behaviors, the sponsors suggest the following:
"¢ Thoughtful planning of prevention activities
"¢ Outreach and education for parents
"¢ New challenges, such as marijuana and prescription drugs
"¢ A coalition of families, schools, public agencies and businesses is essential
"¢ The entire community must address the problem of substance abuse by its youth.
The last item is the most important. With the results of the survey, the Fairfield Cares Task Force has the ammunition its needs to really delve into the issue. I hope to see the task force sponsor and promote town-wide assemblies that give adults and kids all the tools they need to make wise decisions.