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The risk that teens will smoke, drink, get drunk and use illegal drugs increases sharply if they are highly stressed, frequently bored or have substantial amounts of spending money, according to The National Survey of American Attitudes on Substance Abuse VIII: Teens and Parents, an annual back-to-school survey conducted by CASAColumbia (CASA) at Columbia University. This was the first time in its 8 year history that the survey measured the impact of these characteristics on the likelihood of teen substance abuse.
Among CASA’s survey findings:
“High stress, frequent boredom and too much spending money are a catastrophic combination for many American teens,” said CASA Chairman and President and former U.S. Secretary of Health, Education and Welfare Joseph A. Califano, Jr. “But it is a catastrophe that can be avoided through parental engagement. Parents must be sensitive to the stress in their children’s lives, understand why they are bored and limit their spending money.”
Other findings of this year’s survey:
“Two of the most common questions regarding teen drug use and addiction are: how can it happen to my child, and how can it happen to young boys or girls who seem to be typical teens?” said Califano. “These questions are often asked where the drug-abusing teen does not exhibit one of the usual warning signs of drug abuse – being physically or sexually abused, having a learning disability or eating disorder, suffering from serious depression or another mental health condition. CASA’s teen survey suggests that for many teens, the answers to these questions can be found in high stress, frequent boredom and too much spending money.”
The proportion of students who say that drugs are used, kept or sold at their high schools is up 18% over 2002 (from 44% to 52%).
“This is a significant deterioration from last year, when most high school students attended drug free schools,” Califano observed.
As in previous years Catholic and other religious middle and high schools are likelier to be drug-free than are public schools (78% vs. 58%). For the first time there was a large enough sample of students from secular private schools to assess their status: 76% of such schools are drug-free.
Girls vs. Boys
The incidence of high stress was greater among girls than boys, with nearly 1 in 3 girls saying they were highly stressed compared to fewer than 1 in 4 boys. And while girls and boys are equally likely to have more than $50 a week in spending money, girls with this much spending money are likelier than boys to smoke, drink, get drunk and use marijuana.
Parents are likelier than teens to view teen drug use as a fait accompli. More than 4 out of 10 parents said teens are “very likely” or “somewhat likely” to try drugs, compared to only 1 of 10 teens. Teens whose parents believe that future drug use is “very likely” are more than 3 times likelier to become substance abusers than teens whose parents say future drug use is “not likely at all.” More than half of parents whose children attend schools where drugs are used, kept or sold would not send their teen to a drug-free school if they could. Asked why, these parents answer: no schools are drug free (54%), kids should make their own choices (22%), drugs are not a problem (11%), and the child likes his or her school (7%).
“Many parents think they have little power over their teens’ substance use and a disturbing number view drugs in schools as a fact of life they are powerless to stop,” noted Mr. Califano. “How parents act, how much pressure they put on school administrators to get drugs out of their teens’ schools, their attitudes about drugs, and how engaged they are in their children’s lives will have enormous influence over their teens’ substance use. Parent Power is the most underutilized weapon in efforts to curb teen substance abuse.”
Other Key Findings
QEV Analytics conducted The National Survey of American Attitudes on Substance Abuse VIII: Teens and Parents for CASA from March 30 to June 14, 2003. The firm interviewed at home by telephone 1,987 teens aged 12 through 17 and 504 parents, 403 of whom were parents of interviewed teens. Sampling error is +/- 2.2% for teens and +/- 4.4% for parents.
CASAColumbia (CASA) at Columbia University is the only national organization that brings together under one roof all the professional disciplines needed to study and combat all types of substance abuse as they affect all aspects of society.
CASA's missions are to: inform Americans of the economic and social costs of substance abuse and its impact on their lives; assess what works in prevention, treatment and law enforcement; encourage every individual and institution to take responsibility to combat substance abuse and addiction; provide those on the front lines with tools they need to succeed; and remove the stigma of substance abuse and replace shame and despair with hope.
With a staff of more than 70 professionals, CASA has conducted demonstration projects at 69 sites in 40 cities and 22 states focused on children, families and schools, and has been testing the effectiveness of drug and alcohol treatment, monitoring individuals in numerous programs and drug courts in several states.
Parent Power: 5 Ways Parents Can Reduce Teen Risk
1. Be sensitive to the stress in your children’s lives and help them cope.
2. Understand when and why your children are bored and help relieve their boredom.
3. Limit the amount of money your children have to spend and monitor how that money is spent.
4. Know who your children’s friends are.
5. Be engaged in your children’s lives: help them with their homework, attend their sports events, participate in activities together, and talk to them about drugs.
*CASAColumbia at Columbia University is neither affiliated with, nor sponsored by, the National Court Appointed Special Advocate Association (also known as "CASA") or any of its member organizations with the name of "CASA."