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
Counselor Helene Fremder quickly ran through lists
of programs with acronyms like RADAR, SADD, SAVE and
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 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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