Saturday, July 21, 2012

Think Your Teen Drinks Alcohol?

By Bianca Ross, Hendry Health Department

LABELLE, FL. -- Recently the Drug Free Hendry County staff discovered that many residents believe that most Hendry County Teens drink, some even suggesting that 90% of our teens drink and they must lie on our surveys. Other thoughts are that kids drink because they are bored. We'd like to address these misperceptions.

First, let's look at the numbers -  At the end of the school year there were 1,868 teens enrolled in high school in Hendry County. That means that in order for "most" of them to be drinking, 1,681 would have had to get their hands on alcohol during a weekend in the past 30 days. That figure alone is enough to make you rethink the statement "everyone drinks"

As for teens lying on surveys, that's just plain silly. First, research shows that most people around the world are honest on anonymous surveys. Second, knowing what we know about the teen brain, they would be more likely to lie about their negative behavior, not their positive non-drinking behaviors! 

The fact is however, our annual survey actually asks students, "Did you tell the truth?” the overwhelming majority of them say yes. Additionally, this is the fourth year we've given the same survey - that's four graduating classes that have all said about the same thing on this survey. 

It's one thing to think that teens might lie, but it's another to really believe that they would be lying the exact same way every year over four graduating classes. Let's give our teens a break - why is it so hard for us to believe that they make healthy decisions and that most of them are doing the right thing?

The surveys that we use for our data were completed here in Hendry County. Students from LaBelle High SchoolLaBelle Middle SchoolClewiston High School, and Clewiston Middle School complete 2 surveys related to underage drinking.

The Florida Youth Substance Abuse Survey (FYSAS) is completed every two years in nearly every county in the State. The evaluation is professionally done by well-educated statisticians, mathematicians, and evaluators.

The Teen Social Norms Survey has been done each year in select counties throughout the state, including Hendry and Glades counties. We have been administering it to students since 2008. This survey is evaluated by Dr. Greg Barker of Northern Illinois University.

There are questions built into both surveys to invalidate the inconsistent responders or liars. In fact, many students we talk to also feel many students lie on the survey but they themselves say they don’t. I have found a couple of students who admitted they lied, out of the hundreds I’ve spoken to. Most students tell the truth – especially since it is a totally anonymous survey.

NOW for the statistics. Both surveys are pretty consistent across all responses.

Concerning alcohol THE 2010 FYSAS indicates that 33.3% of our high school teens have used alcohol in the past 30 days. That is almost 5% lower than the state average. It also indicates that 15.8% of students are binge drinkers – meaning they drink 5 or more drinks in a row. While it still indicates that most teens don’t drink it raises a flag since about half of those drinkers are binge drinking – which is extremely dangerous.

The 2010 TEEN NORMS Survey indicates that 32% of Hendry County High School Students report “they have had at least one drink of alcohol in the past 30 days”. YET when asked about their peers those same students believe that 81% participated in the aforementioned behavior. This means that most (68%) of our teens are making good decisions, despite popular opinion 

It is highly unlikely and probably impossible for any county to have a 90% underage drinking rate. There are actually counties in the state that have a higher drinking rate than us – think college towns and spring break communities. Please also note that lifetime use and regular use are different and have different rates.

The great thing about both of these surveys is they provide us with so much more information about issues surrounding underage substance abuse. We learn where they get the drugs from. We also learn who the kids trust (parents are ranked #1) and where they get the most information (posters at school, us – parents rank #3 here). 

The FYSAS does a comprehensive job at identifying risk and protective factors. We actually rank lower than the state on protective factors like opportunities for prosocial involvement. We rank higher than the state for some –but not all- risk factors, including community disorganization and laws and norms favorable to drug use.

As for being bored, we have to be careful as a community to not allow this to be the scapegoat for negative teen behavior. We believe our teens can and should make good decisions, even when they are bored to death! And let's face it, being bored is not the reason kids drink or experiment with drugs. 

They engage in this behavior frequently because they were pressured in a social situation. These situations can occur in someone's home or at a recreation center - where there are teens, there is always a risk for risk-seeking behavior, and boredom is not the cause.

That being said, we can all do our part by 1) making sure teens don't have access to alcohol through the home or retail sources 2) talking to other parents and making it clear to them you don't want your teen drinking 3) and checking up on your teen on occasion to make sure they are where they say they are going to be. 

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