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Mamaroneck Teen Drinking Way Above Average But On the Way Down: Programs Attacking the Problem

by Judy Silberstein

(October 10, 2002 ) Parents, school board members, administrators and staff turned out in large numbers for Thursday evening’s joint PTA and RADAR (Responsible Action Drug Alcohol Resource) meeting at the Hommocks school to discuss results of last April’s survey of local students’ alcohol, drug and tobacco use. There was much very good news in the “Communities That Care Youth Survey." Use of cocaine, heroin, inhalants, and chewing tobacco by Mamaroneck students was minimal and way below the national average. There was other good news: use of marijuana was stable or dropping when compared to previous surveys. Alcohol use, though high, was significantly lower than before. The schools received very high marks for attributes associated with protecting students from risky behaviors, for example, students were content with coming to school, felt positively involved in school culture and found adults to be accessible.

More good news: the large turn out was in response to parental and school concern with preventing tragedies. Sadly, the more typical assembly follows serious alcohol-related misbehavior, as in Harrison with the death of 17 year-old Robert Viscome or in Scarsdale with over 200 students showing up drunk at a high school dance.

However, there was also worrisome news: alcohol use among 8th, 10th and 12th graders was significantly higher than the national norm. Many local students are drinking more alcohol, at an earlier age, and more frequently than teens in comparable communities across the country. In some categories, our drinking levels were double the national average. Over 20 percent of twelfth graders reported coming to school drunk or high in the past year. This is a serious and rare pattern, according to the evening’s main speaker, drug prevention consultant Isabel Burk who has been meeting with school groups in over 38 states.

What sorts of risk factors might be accounting for Mamaroneck’s elevated teen alcohol use? The survey provided some hints. When compared with teens of comparable communities, our teens perceive that adults in Mamaroneck have attitudes that are more favorable toward alcohol use by teens. Teens also perceive that alcohol is easy to come by. What can parents do? The single most important variable says “Mean Mom” Burk, is “know where your teen is,” even if you have to keep calling your teens on a cell-phone to track them down. Another critical step is to have frequent, meaningful conversations in which parents clearly and consistently convey to their children their values, attitudes and expectations about teen drinking. Burke exhorted the group to spend at least ten minutes, four times per year on these conversations.

With younger students, advised Dr. Mark Levy from the local Community Counseling Center, the message should be clear and simple: “no alcohol.” With older students, the message must be more nuanced and entail discussions about medical and legal risks. To help parents and students sort out alcohol and drug issues, the Counseling Center operates several educational and support programs, both in and out of schools.

In addition to the Community Counseling programs there are numerous prevention programs held during and after classes at the elementary, middle and high schools. Hommocks Principal Seth Weitzman and MHS Drug and Alcohol Counselor Helene Fremder quickly ran through lists of programs with acronyms like RADAR, SADD, SAVE and VAASA. There were Peer Leaders, Caprice Advisors, Advocacy Groups, Life Skills Groups and Positive Alternative Activities and Facing Adolescence Together. The newest program unveiled at the meeting is SafeHomes in which parents pledge to ban alcohol from parties in their homes. The pledge, and other information can be found on the school website: Mamaroneck High School.

The numerous programs have not totally eliminated the drinking problems from Mamaroneck, as the “Communities That Care Youth Survey" indicated. There is a persistent, serious problem. However, Dr. Levy suggested that teen drinking is on the way down, perhaps as a result of the focused efforts. Parents need to keep educating themselves and their students, and the community needs to keep focusing on the problems of teen substance abuse.



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