Tag Archives: Westport Prevention Coalition

Teen Survey: Drugs Of Choice, Coping With Stress, And More

About 60% of Staples High School seniors drink regularly. A quarter use marijuana. The same number vape — mostly THC.

Those are some of the headline-grabbing statistics announced this week by the Westport Prevention Coalition. Working with the Search Institute, Westport Department of Human Services and Positive Directions, they conducted an anonymous survey of 800 7th through 12 graders in April.

In addition to substance use, questions covered developmental relationships, COVID stress and racial justice.

Results were presented at Monday’s Board of Education meeting. Yesterday afternoon, Westport public schools coordinator of psychological services Dr. Valerie Babich and Positive Directions prevention director Margaret Watt did a deeper dive into the statistics, on a Zoom call with Westport educators, youth workers, social service providers and students.

The bulk of the discussion involved the substance use findings. The survey asked about behaviors in the preceding 30 days. Teenagers were still wearing masks and supposed to be socially distanced; COVID continued to limit some of their interactions.

Key substance findings from the Westport Prevention Coalition survey.

Nonetheless, 60% of Staples seniors had had “more than a few sips” of beer in the previous month. For 7th graders, the number was 9%. It rose steadily, most noticeably starting in sophomore year.

Taken together, the 33% total of high school students who drank in the previous 30 days — during COVID — was higher than the Connecticut average in a survey conducted in 2019, before the pandemic.

Marijuana use and vaping begins around 9th grade. It rises in tandem over the years, peaking at 24% (marijuana) and 25% (vaping) by senior year.

Of the students who knew what they were vaping, 2/3 used THC; 1/3 used nicotine. In addition, 28% used multiple substances. But 13% did not know what they were inhaling.

Interestingly, tobacco and prescription drug misuse was virtually non-existent: 0 to 2% in all grades.

The Westport Prevention Coalition has undertaken an educational campaign. This is the front of a postcard. The other side helps parents talk about substance use with their youngsters.

As students get older, they reported, their parents’ disapproval of certain substances goes down. By senior year, only 63% of students said that their parents disapprove of marijuana.

In terms of perceived harm, 78% of high school students think that 5 or more drinks at a time, once or twice a week, is harmful. That means 22% do not believe it is bad.

81% of high school students think vaping is harmful.

In 7th grade, 74% of students surveyed thought that marijuana is harmful. By 12th grade, the number dropped to 34%.

COVID had a strong impact on Westport youth. More than half of students surveyed took steps to resolve pandemic-related problems. The majority said they accepted the reality of the new situation. However, only 34% reached out to others to talk about how they were feeling.

58% of the students felt connected to school staff. A whopping 94% said they felt connected to friends.

In tough COVID times, friends can be lifesavers.

Questions about developmental relationships with teachers revealed “moderate to high” responses. Students felt that they were challenged to grow, provided support, and expanded their possibilities.

Areas for improvement included inspiring possibilities for the future, exposure to new ideas, and introduction to people who could help them grow.

The final section revealed that 3/4 believe they have a role to play in ending racial injustice. A clear majority are aware of the impact of their own words and actions, in the social justice arena.

Data will be reviewed with school administrators, staff, mental health professionals and students. The Westport Prevention Coalition will then determine how best to turn the findings into solutions.

Positive Parenting Postcards

Parenting is hard.

Everyone knows that. It’s like saying “I-95 sucks.”

But every Westport parent has gotten that reminder 3 times in the past 3 weeks. Colorful postcards arrived in local mailboxes. They bore our “06880” zip code. They began, “Parenting is hard….”

Then they offered tips, to make talking with your kids a bit lest difficult.

The cards come courtesy of the Westport Prevention Coalition. A subcommittee of Westport Together — the collaboration between Positive Directions, Westport Public Schools and PTAs, and the Department of Human Services — its current charge is to raise parental awareness of teenage behaviors around alcohol and drugs.

That’s particularly important now, says Positive Directions prevention director Margaret Watt.

As Westport opens back up after the pandemic — with proms, graduation and other rites of spring looming after 15 months of unprecedented demands on adolescent life — parents may not realize what the “new normal” is like.

“Westport has sometimes turned a blind eye toward teenage drinking,” Watt says. But recent focus groups revealed that during COVID, some youngsters held Zoom drinking parties. Marijuana use may have also increased during quarantine.

The front side of one of the postcards …

Each postcard bears a different message.

One assures parents that teenagers value their opinions, and learn from observing priorities and choices.

It advises parents:

  • Talk about your expectations and rules.
  • Be open about your own stress, and model healthy ways to handle it.
  • Make fun family time a priority.

Another postcard reminds parents about Connecticut’s “Social Host Law.” Anyone over 18 faces arrest and imprisonment, lawsuits and legal fees, loss of homeowners insurance, and fines of $2,000 — one for every underage youth — if alcohol is used on their property. That’s true even if an adult is not present.

A third postcard notes that “new” marijuana — not the kind they might have smoked years ago — has been engineered to be “many times stronger than nature.” The card covers vaping THC, and the effects of the drug on brain development and addiction.

… and the back.

Each card includes a QR code, to scan for more information.

Four more are planned. All 7 end the same way: “Talk early … talk often.”

Feedback has been excellent. The postcards are seen as eye-catching, concise and informative. One parent contacted the Coalition immediately after receiving the first card, grateful for the info and conversation starters.

Future mailings may also include residents without school-age children. After all, it takes a village — not just a parent — to raise a child.

And it’s hard.

(For more information, click here. To volunteer with the Westport Prevention Coalition, email mwatt@positivedirections.org.)