Editorial: The lessons we have taught them

Statewide, voters, including Islanders in particularly enthusiastic numbers, have agreed to allow medicinal marijuana sales from as many as 35 outlets statewide. Voters nationally, in Tuesday’s election made a significant move toward legalizing marijuana use. And, the Martha’s Vineyard Youth Task Force will report this afternoon that its 2012 survey of risky behaviors among teenagers reveals that as alcohol consumption among teens has declined steadily since 2007, marijuana use has increased.

Islanders will have to consider what to think about the coincidence of this data and the trends that it may illustrate.

But, if parents and the Vineyard community at large are doubtful about the wisdom of young people drinking alcohol, using prescription drugs, and smoking marijuana, the Youth Task Force numbers, even when they reveal declines, as is the case with alcohol use, are alarming. Combined with a state and national relaxation in attitudes toward marijuana use, the trend lines point to trouble ahead.

There is some marginally good news. Only 12 percent of surveyed students used cigarettes in 2012, compared with 13 percent in 2007. Only 42 percent of those surveyed in 2012 reported that they use alcohol, compared with 55 percent in 2007. And, high-risk or binge drinking has declined, according to the survey, from 39 percent to 27 percent.

But, as alcohol use has declined, marijuana use has grown significantly, from 30 percent in 2007 to 39 percent in 2012, a 10 percent jump. Marijuana use by Vineyard young people is markedly higher than is the case statewide or nationally. The Massachusetts decision in 2008 to decriminalize possession of small amounts of marijuana or hashish passed with 65 percent approval from voters statewide, but with 80 percent approval on the Vineyard.

Worse still, prescription drug use has jumped from five percent in 2007 to nine percent in 2012, nearly double.

The headline results of the Youth Task Force survey are provocative, but the survey offers much more for Islanders to consider. What are some of the specific indicators and findings in this community that say something about us, our children, and how we live? What are the specific points of access for the substances that young people use and abuse. Does the potential for harm elude these children and young adults? How are the users regarded by their peers?

Against the background data collected by this immensely valuable survey, now in its fifth year, there is the question it poses for parents, educators, and the community at large: Are we content with these trends? Survey respondents, 77 percent of them, disapprove of cigarette use, and 51 percent of them disapprove of young people their age indulging in high risk drinking. But, just 44 percent disapprove of getting drunk, just 36 percent disapprove of smoking marijuana, and just 27 percent disapprove of drinking alcohol.

It’s pretty clear we’ve been teaching the children, not so clear that we have been teaching them well.