Wednesday, December 16, 2015

A Downward Trend

Friends who grew up in the 1960s and 70s sometimes shake their heads about how lethargic today's teenagers are when it comes to protests and activism. After all, it's hard to paint a sign or stand on a picket line when you rarely look up from your mobile device. Even choosing a college and a concentration has become an exercise in ROI, or "return on investment," rather than an opportunity to learn about something that matters. (Good thing we weren't doing that math back when I selected Drama and English as my double major). 

These same friends also notice that, by and large, our teens are more conservative when it comes to recreational ... um ... shall we say "activities." Whenever we compare notes about our sons and daughters, we invariably fall back into the same stories of our own high school debauchery. Smoking lots of pot, for example. Or drinking to excess — and driving afterwards. While none of us wants our offspring to get into trouble, legally or chemically, the undercurrent always feels like "Oh those poor kids, they're missing out." 

We may be the first generation to bemoan our children's good behavior.

It also feels counter-intuitive. Typically, we criticize the younger generation. We were more polite; we were better students. "We would never have given our parents so much back talk." 

Riiiiight. Probably because we were all too stoned to do so.

Anyway, there was an interesting story released by Reuters News Agency this morning. It seems that 2015 continued a long decline in teen use of alcohol, cigarettes and drugs. The study, which included a survey of 44,892 students grades 8-12, was funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

Here are key findings:

* 7% of students used cigarettes, the lowest number since tracking began 41 years ago.

* 40% of students used alcohol in the past year; 22% in the past month. These numbers sound high but, again, they are the lowest ever tracked. Binge and "extreme binge" drinking also fell.

* 24% (averaged across grades) students used marijuana during the past year. This number has remained steady over the past five years.

Teens also reported decreased use of other drugs, such as ecstasy, heroin, amphetamines and synthetic marijuana.

So researchers (not to mention educators and parents) are curious about why we're seeing the decline. Contributing factors may include tougher laws, better education, community efforts, advertising campaigns, smoking bans in restaurants and public places, as well as increased taxes on cigarettes and alcohol. Nothing deters teen behavior like teen poverty.

Smoking, drinking and drug use contribute to a host of medical issues (in teen years and later in life), and cost communities hundreds of thousands of dollars. So, no matter where the credit lies, this is all good news.

In some cases — maybe, perhaps, possibly, against all odds — parental advice may even have been responsible for positively influencing teen behavior. After all, there's a familiar (if rather cynical) saying: "Do as I say, not as I do." 

I guess, today's teenagers are doing what we say, not what we did.

For more information, you can visit the NIDA website here.

If you've enjoyed this post, I invite you to order the book Lovin' the Alien here. 

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