Work to do
The results of the Dukes County Health Council's youth risk survey, described in news stories last week, are generally discouraging. Results from the survey of 855 Island students, grades 7 through 12, show a reduction in cigarette, marijuana, and other drug use compared to previous surveys, but discouragingly, current levels of alcohol and marijuana use by Island high school students exceeds levels for their state and national peers.
The Dukes County Health Council Youth Task Force (YTF) conducted the 2006/2007 Youth Risk Behavior Survey in February, in collaboration with the Martha's Vineyard Public Schools and the Southeast Center for Healthy Communities (SCHC) in Brockton. Cindy Doyle, YTF Coalition chairman, made a summary of the results available this week.
The complete results, in PDF form, are available by clicking the following links: Report I Background - Report II High School - Report III Middle School
Sadly, despite some modest, favorable trends, too many Island young people between 11 and 18 years of age put themselves at risk.
Survey organizers added an important qualifier to the reported results: "It is important to emphasize the many positive aspects of adolescent life, the fact that these issues are not confined solely to youth, and that they are community issues that require the attention of all community members and organizations."
True, but these results demand a careful attempt to understand the prompts that lead young men and women to accept these behavior risks and to conceive of effective methods of persuading impulsive and impressionable teenagers to think more carefully before choosing. The notion that helping young people who embrace these risks to understand that for the most part their peers avoid them may help, as the survey organizers suggest, seems worthwhile. But more importantly, these results may implicate a community of parents and leaders who are excessively tolerant, and in some cases even encouraging of these behaviors. It is certainly not only the young people who need attention, to lead them away from these troubling, risky activities, but their adult guides as well. Perhaps more of the effort should be directed toward the latter.
As we consider where to aim efforts to counter these behavioral tendencies, of course schools, social service organizations, the police, and the courts come to mind. But, there is good reason to think that these broader community efforts are inadequate to the task. Not because they are indifferent or incompetent or unsupported, but because they are playing catch-up on troubling behaviors, for which parents and families are the first responders, the front line, and in some cases the inspiration for the bad choices their children make. These families, no matter how they are composed, will need support, education, and resources to help them lead their children away from the decisions that put them at risk.