Learning to handle alcohol, drugs and peer pressure is all part of growing up in our society.
Communities know this instinctively, but rarely do we get a glimpse inside the collective life of our teens. That is one of the reasons that the just-released report by Communities That Care is so important — this information is straight from our youth, it's self-reported, and it's the truth.
This is the third time the survey has been done. Previous studies questioned youth in 2003 and 2006 — the long gap to 2013 is duly mainly to the fact that the exercise is driven by community volunteers and it's not free.
Community members concerned about our youth's rates of substance abuse started the project 11 years ago. And we should all be grateful that they stood up and took action. While the results of this latest report show that more work needs to be done, our youth and our community have come a long way.
The Communities That Care (CTC) system is a way for members of a community to work together to prevent youth health and behaviour problems. It uses risk factors that predict youth problem behaviours, and protective factors that buffer children from risk and help them succeed over life. Youths are asked questions on a survey reflecting these two points of view and results are drawn from the answers.
Research has found that onset of drug use prior to the age of 15 is a consistent predictor of later drug use. If drug use starts before age 15, the risk of drug problems is twice that of those who start after aged 19. That is just one reason why community members cannot afford to play ostriches with our heads in the sand.
In Whistler, the 2013 CTC has highlighted again that two of the most problematic risk factors are parent's favourable attitudes toward alcohol, drugs and tobacco, and the positive feedback youth get from their peers when they drink and do drugs. That idea that it's "cool" to get drunk and get high still persists despite all the education on the topic.
It is common for Whistler high school students to go to parties together. By Grade 9 many of the kids are going to parties with older grades, as the school population is quite small. There is drinking at nearly all these parties, and at most of them parents know about it, and in some cases, even provide the alcohol.
Binge drinking is common and some kids end up throwing up.
As the weather gets warm the parties often move outside to locations such as the Gravel Pit at the bottom of Lorimer Road.
And, of course, there are the grad kidnapping parties.
"When parents are tolerant of their children's illegal behavior (sic), their children are more likely to engage in delinquent behavior," states the report.
"When students' responses to individual survey questions are examined, they indicate that over half of families do not have clear rules regarding alcohol use and, in grade 12, over one-third of student respondents indicated that their families do not have clear rules regarding drug use."
According to the CTC report, the percentage of Whistler students using alcohol jumps from 19.4 per cent of respondents in Grade 9 to 61.7 per cent of respondents in Grade 10.
Same pattern for recent (30-day) use of marijuana: Grade 9 students, 5.6 per cent and Grade 10 students, 36.2 per cent.
"...the use of alcohol and marijuana by Whistler students is above the norm," states the report.
Binge drinking, consuming five or more drinks in a row in the past two weeks, increased with age, states the report. It peaked in Grade 11 with 61.2 per cent of youth surveyed admitting to this behaviour. By Grade 12 it was down to 34.4 per cent.
But the CTC also shows that there has been a strong improvement in these numbers since 2003 and 2006. The community is moving in the right direction.
And according to the CTC report, many factors are playing a role including community attitudes, parents, and the schools.
One of the anti-social behaviours (antisocial behaviour is defined as "behaviour that runs counter to established norms of good behaviour") that is improving is being drunk or high at school — a surveyed behaviour that was made the top priority as a result of the 2006 survey. It has decreased significantly from 20.6 per cent in 2006 to 7.26 per cent in 2013. However, it should be noted that 30.3 per cent of Grade 12s reported this behaviour.
"This large improvement may be due in part to a change in school policy," states the CTC report.
Feeding this improvement is the youth's experience that the classroom is a positive place where involvement is welcome, and there are clubs for them to join. Eighty per cent of Whistler 2013 respondents indicated that they have school opportunities for pro-social involvement in class and in clubs compared to just 49 per cent in 2006.
Most youth also feel connected to their families here, a very important factor in keeping kids safe. Having so many activities that can be done together is an important part of this puzzle.
The community needs to stay on track on this issue. Programs helping families with parenting need to continue, as does education on these issues in the schools. Continuing funding cuts to our community youth programs in light of this study is short sighted and counter intuitive.
Many of those at greatest risk don't have funds to take part in programs that could help — in part because the resort is an expensive place to live — so the programs need to be free.
Somehow parents have to address the perception that you can't have fun without alcohol and drugs — pretty hard in a town built on its reputation as a party Mecca.
Perhaps the best we can do is to treat alcohol and drugs with respect in our own homes, create clear rules of use for the family and lead by example.
After all kids will be kids, and before you know it they will be living by their own rules.
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