Green­wich par­ents, it starts with you

Preven­tion Coun­cil re­leases teen sur­vey re­sults, im­plores adults to set bet­ter ex­am­ple

Greenwich Time - - FRONT PAGE - By Jo Kroeker

GREEN­WICH — Re­sults of a town­wide sur­vey of Green­wich youth gave lo­cal ex­perts a mes­sage they want to pound home: If par­ents set clear bound­aries and good ex­am­ples when it comes to drink­ing, their chil­dren are less likely to do it.

Par­ents who went to hear the re­sults of the sur­vey Tues­day night at YWCA Green­wich left with that mes­sage, as well as par­ent­ing ad­vice from John Hamil­ton, the CEO of Lib­er­a­tion Pro­grams, which pro­vides sub­stance abuse treat­ment, and Kim­berly Wolf­son-Li­sack, a li­censed clin­i­cal so­cial worker for Kids in Cri­sis, which coun­sels chil­dren and fam­i­lies who need help.

The town­wide sur­vey was is­sued in Fe­bru­ary by the Green­wich Preven­tion Coun­cil — a coali­tion of town agen­cies formed in re­sponse to 17 pre­scrip­tion drug over­doses, five of which were fa­tal, in 2016. Pub­lic and pri­vate school stu­dents re­ported their ex­pe­ri­ences with sub­stances, so­cial me­dia and bul­ly­ing.

“Ac­knowl­edg­ing that we had a prob­lem was the most im­por­tant step to­ward mov­ing for­ward,” First Select­man Peter Te­sei said of the over­doses. “We’re try­ing to ad­dress what is ac­tu­ally a prob­lem. This is the first of many steps to­ward achiev­ing a so­lu­tion.”

Pre­scrip­tion drug use hov­ers un­der 1 per­cent. Ex­perts con­cluded a larger prob­lem in Green­wich is un­der­age drink­ing and par­ent per­mis­sive­ness: Teens drink too much, and mostly in other peo­ple’s homes.

“Peo­ple don’t see al­co­hol is a drug, but it was the first one we no­ticed brain dam­age in,” said In­grid Gille­spie, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of a coun­ty­wide ad­vo­cacy group called Com­mu­ni­ties 4 Ac­tion. “Fair­field County is known for drink­ing more than the na­tional av­er­age.”

Green­wich stu­dents drink at a higher rate than do stu­dents across the nation, ac­cord­ing to the sur­vey. Twenty-eight per­cent of 10th-graders from town re­ported con­sum­ing al­co­hol in the past 30 days, com­pared to 20 per­cent na­tion­wide; and 55 per­cent of Green­wich se­niors drank, com­pared to 33 per­cent na­tion­wide.

“Our young peo­ple em­u­late what we do. In many ways, we own this prob­lem, this so­ci­etal is­sue. This may seem trite to you, but I don’t think it is,” Te­sei said.

The stakes are high, ac­cord­ing to Hamil­ton.

Ad­dic­tion rates among adults range be­tween 9 per­cent and 23 per­cent for to­bacco, heroin, co­caine, al­co­hol, seda­tives and cannabis. If chil­dren start be­fore 18, ad­dic­tion rates jump up by 17 per­cent. If they start be­fore 15, those rates jump up 25 per­cent to 50 per­cent.

‘Keep show­ing up’

Stu­dents who do not drink said ex­ter­nal re­stric­tions — the threat of hav­ing their li­cense re­voked, their IDs checked or breath­ing into a breath­a­lyzer — in­flu­enced them more than in­ter­nal pro­tec­tions, such as strict par­ents or dis­ap­prov­ing friends.

Still, Green­wich par­ents need to do more to teach their chil­dren how to make good de­ci­sions on their own, Wolf­son-Li­sack said.

“We don’t step back as our kids get older, we move in,” she said. “We have to be more ver­bal.”

Chil­dren should hear their par­ents’ voices and see their faces when they en­counter risk fac­tors such as drugs and al­co­hol at par­ties, which re­quires more than one con­ver­sa­tion, Wolf­son-Li­sack said.

“You’ve never done enough,” she said. “You never know what’s in­flu­enc­ing them. Their think­ing is chang­ing.”

Kids get into drugs when they dis­tance them­selves from their par­ents, and when par­ents and kids are in con­flict, Hamil­ton said.

In­stead, he be­seeched par­ents to spend more time with their kids and lead by ex­am­ple.

“Show up. Be in­volved. Em­brace your kid,” Hamil­ton said. “They’re go­ing to push back, but keep show­ing up.”

What the stu­dents said

In the sur­vey, about half of Green­wich mid­dle- and high school­ers said they never drink al­co­hol. Of those who re­ported drink­ing at all, 22 per­cent con­sumed al­co­hol within the last 30 days.

In many cases, they are drink­ing at an­other per­son’s home, a crime for which the home­own­ers are li­able if there are in­juries.

Fifty per­cent of stu­dents who drank in the last month said their par­ents do not dis­ap­prove, while 30 per­cent did so de­spite par­ent dis­ap­proval.

Sta­tis­tics on drink­ing, such as lo­ca­tion, source of al­co­hol and per­cep­tion of par­ent dis­ap­proval, change with every year stu­dents are in high school.

Stu­dents think their par­ents are less likely to con­demn binge-drink­ing in later high school years: 57 per­cent of ju­niors and 41 per­cent of se­niors said their par­ents would think it very wrong to drink four or more drinks on one oc­ca­sion.

Most Green­wich teens drink in other peo­ple’s homes: 14 per­cent of eighth graders and 29 per­cent of fresh­men some­times drink in some­one else’s home, com­pared to 45 per­cent of se­niors who some­times do and 20 per­cent who of­ten do.

It hap­pens at home: About half of mid­dle school stu­dents re­ported that their par­ents some­times let them drink, while 58 per­cent of par­ents some­times let their high school se­niors drink.

Kids re­ported drink­ing with their par­ents: About one-third of mid­dle school chil­dren some­times drink with adults, which jumps to 55 per­cent of se­niors who some­times get to drink with adults.

Friends re­main an im­por­tant source: 10 per­cent of ninth graders of­ten get their al­co­hol from their friends, while 35 per­cent of se­niors of­ten get their al­co­hol from friends.

In the com­ments sec­tion of the sur­vey, stu­dents over­whelm­ingly asked schools to crack down on va­p­ing, but were less likely to con­demn un­der­age drink­ing.

It would be dif­fi­cult to stop teen drink­ing, since it oc­curs in every gen­er­a­tion and com­mu­nity, but crack­ing down on va­p­ing is es­sen­tial, one teen said.

Green­wich stu­dents have ac­cess to money to buy al­co­hol and drugs be­cause par­ents do not no­tice charges to their debit and credit cards, an­other stu­dent said.

The drug prob­lem in town would go down if par­ents mon­i­tored their kids bet­ter, the stu­dent con­tin­ued.

An­other stu­dent said safety and re­spon­si­bil­ity are most im­por­tant, but added that most kids start us­ing sub­stances to get at­ten­tion.

One stu­dent said the drink­ing prob­lem starts at the top, with par­ents, and ex­horted adults to “prac­tice what they preach.”

An­other stu­dent ad­mit­ted to tak­ing an un­pre­scribed an­tianx­i­ety drug and drink­ing oc­ca­sion­ally to cope with the pres­sure of the col­lege ap­pli­ca­tion process, ex­ac­er­bated by a high-achiev­ing par­ent. The stu­dent hopes for more aware­ness of men­tal health prob­lems for both par­ents and chil­dren.

Case study: Darien

Emily Larkin, di­rec­tor of the Com­mu­nity Fund of Darien’s Thriv­ing Youth Pro­gram, said Green­wich could look to Darien for an ex­am­ple.

Darien has sur­veyed its stu­dents every three years since 2008.

The sur­vey and the cre­ation of the com­mu­nity fund made Darien el­i­gi­ble for a state grant, which it re­ceived in 2015. The $500,000 grant over five years paid for Larkin’s po­si­tion and the cre­ation of a plan to ad­dress sub­stance abuse.

The or­ga­ni­za­tion started a provoca­tive so­cial cam­paign to ad­dress fam­ily norms around drink­ing, and a lo­cal mar­ket­ing agency took the com­mu­nity fund on for free be­cause its big­gest cus­tomer is an al­co­holic bev­er­age dis­trib­u­tor.

“We were hear­ing again and again that the per­mis­sive­ness was a key fac­tor,” Larkin said.

The cam­paign ed­u­cated par­ents about the im­pact of drink­ing on the teenage brain and laws that as­sign re­spon­si­bil­ity to adults who al­low mi­nors to drink al­co­hol at so­cial gath­er­ings.

After the cam­paign, the number of par­ents who re­ported that teens other than their child may have con­sumed al­co­hol in their house de­creased from 17 per­cent to 4 per­cent.

“We still have a long way to go, but start­ing a con­ver­sa­tion at home and in the com­mu­nity has been a real point of suc­cess and we’re ex­cited for it to con­tinue,” Larkin said.

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