By Lisa Wakeland
Cincinnati--How prevalent is drug and alcohol use among local high school students? Does seeing a movie or television depiction of teen partying have an effect on their perception of possible dangers?
Those were a couple of issues teens and adults tried to address recently during the annual Substance Awareness Greater Anderson Youth Summit.
The daylong event brings together students from each local high school – Anderson, Turpin and McNicholas – to discuss what they’re witnessing in the schools, and to talk about prevention and how to address substance abuse.
“The purpose is for us to hear from the students, and kids are reporting anecdotally at the summit that there is more (drug and alcohol) use than what is in our data,” said Lea Beck, executive director of Substance Awareness Greater Anderson (SAGA). “The perception of harm is decreasing so use is increasing.”
Student surveys have showed a decrease in drug and alcohol use among local teens since 2004, but there has been a slow and steady rise of marijuana use in the last couple years.
Jake Pippenger, a senior at Turpin High School who attended the youth summit, said he’d occasionally hear about drug and alcohol use by classmates but was surprised by how common it was among fellow teens he’d never suspect were using drugs or alcohol.
Raven York, a junior at McNicholas High School who also attended the SAGA summit, echoed that sentiment and added that media can have a big effect on teens’ perception of drugs or alcohol.
Movies or television shows can glorify getting drunk or stoned at a party but rarely show any of the bad things that can be associated with that, she said.
“We’re letting that model what we should do, but I think it should be the opposite way,” she said.
“We should lead the media. The big problem is teens don’t see the effects (marijuana) has. It’s not what it’s doing to your body, it’s that it’s a gateway drug. That’s the harmful effect.”
The students spent most of the morning in small-group discussions and came together in the afternoon to share their findings with school and community leaders.
What they discovered is one of the best ways to address substance abuse and prevention begins at home with the parents.
Many teens are afraid of what might happen if their parents catch them drinking or using drugs, Pippenger said.
“If they think they’re going to get grounded for a year, the (kids) might be more inclined to do it,” he said. “Don’t be that super-strict parent, be understanding ... and keep an open mind.”
But York said it’s also important for teenagers to realize that even if parents give them a hard time about drinking or drug use it’s because they’re concerned.
“Parents are worried about (drunken driving), car crashes and other bad stuff, but they’re just looking out for us, and that’s something teenagers need to understand,” she said.
Many parents had similar experiences when they were younger and being understanding or talking about substance abuse early can help, Beck said.
“These conversations don’t have to be so big or eruptive, and if they’re going on when the kids are younger it will be easier to have these conversations when they’re in high school,” she said.
Beck said teachers and school administrators pick the students who participate in the youth summit, and they try to make it random to get a variety of responses.
The high school session is conducted in the spring, and Substance Awareness Greater Anderson hosts a junior high summit in the summer.
Visit the Substance Awareness Greater Anderson website to learn more about the organization.