Recent news that a survey of Alaska teens found a decrease in risky behaviors, including the use of alcohol and marijuana, is good to hear, as is local law enforcement’s corroboration of those numbers.
Among the statistics reported in the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services’ Youth Risk Behavior Survey is a decrease in the use of drugs and alcohol over the past 10 years. The survey found 22.5 percent of high school students had consumed alcohol in the past 30 days, compared with 28.6 percent in 2011 and nearly 40 percent in 2007. Likewise, 19.7 percent of high school students reported using marijuana in the past 30 days, down from 21.2 percent in 2011 and 20.5 percent in 2007.
Some of the credit certainly can be attributed to education efforts such as D.A.R.E., a Drug Abuse Resistance Education program taught by police officers in local schools. Soldotna police officer Tobin Brennan told the Clarion that part of the D.A.R.E. curriculum deals with the effects of drugs and alcohol, while the rest gives students the opportunity to work through scenarios and learn about the consequences of certain decisions.
“The most important thing is to remember, if they do make that bad choice, remember how they felt, what the consequences were,” Brennan said. “So that hopefully, if they face something similar, they won’t make the same mistake again.”
Brennan’s comments speak to another important point to take away from the survey: while the numbers indicate area teens may be making better decisions when it comes to drug and alcohol use, at some point, most young adults are going to try something they shouldn’t, or find themselves in a situation where drugs and alcohol are present. It is vitally important that teens learn from those experiences to make better decisions in the future.
We applaud programs such as D.A.R.E. that strive to give teens the tools to learn from their experience, but it can’t stop there. The message needs to be reinforced at home. Parents, take the time now to have a candid discussion about drugs and alcohol with your kids. Share your personal views and experiences. Make sure they understand the potential consequences of alcohol and drug use, from the minor things like hangovers or embarrassing comments, to the most serious repercussions, including serious injury and even death. Make sure they understand that alcohol and drug use leads to impaired judgement, and impaired judgement can lead to all sorts of bad decisions. It’s never too soon to start having that conversation — in this area, fifth-graders participate in the D.A.R.E. program.
Engaging in risky behaviors has always been part of growing up. It’s also referred to as pushing boundaries or testing limits, and sometimes, learning from experience. The numbers indicate area teens are learning how to make better decisions — but that as long as the numbers are higher than zero, the learning process needs to continue as well.