Mamaroneck and Larchmont can be considered a virtual breeding ground for youthful alcohol and drug abuse based on two addiction markers, the Local Summit learned at its meeting June 16th.
The two community risk markers are a high level of disposable income and modest parental supervision, said Janet Buchbinder, president of RADAR (Responsible Action: A Drug and Alcohol Resource) and Evan Stern, a Hommocks school counselor and RADAR board member.
The two speakers went on to verify the relevance of the addiction markers in Larchmont and Mamaroneck by citing results of a survey conducted last year of 1028 Mamaroneck School District students in the 6th, 7th, 8th, 10th and 12th grades.
Survey Yields Striking Results
Among the findings were:
- Twelfth-grade alcohol use has increased steadily since 2002. Last year, 80.2% of high school seniors reported regular alcohol use, which exceeded the national rate by 82%.
- Some 24% of those surveyed reported binge drinking (five or more drinks within a few hours). The most binge drinkers were 10th and 12th graders; 44% and 55.2% respectively had binged in the two weeks prior to the survey.
- Rates for seniors who at some time attended school drunk or high rose to 42.2% last year from 29.5% in 2006.
- The use of marijuana has increased across all grades from 2002 to 2008; among seniors it was up more than 100%, with 48.5% reporting using the drug at least once a month.
- Marijuana was fairly easy to get, said 53% of all surveyed: 64% said alcohol was too.
The speakers said that certain modest progress had been made, most notably a reduction in alcohol use in the 6th and 8th grades.
That said, Bruce Schearer. a Summit board member and professional advisor to non-profits, interrupted the statistical presentation to ask whether the speakers were alarmed over what they were reciting.
“Yes, we are alarmed,” Ms. Buchbinder responded. Her alarm was intensified, she said, by the knowledge that the local statistics are not that different from other high-income communities in Westchester and nearby Connecticut.
For progress to be made, adults in all these community have to change their attitudes, she said.”This is more than a drink and drive problem.” It is a question of parental attitudes and what is allowed to happen at home, both when parents are present and when they are not. Mr. Stern noted, as an aside, that statistics show that tolerating early drinking at home does not condition youth to drink moderately as adults.
Parents Should Be Parents
Mamaroneck High School counselor Keith Yizar, an audience member, said that one of the problems is that many local parents “want to be friends rather than parents. Kids say, ‘You did it, I can do it.’ ” For example, a 14-year old reported to her counselor that she had told her parents that she used marijuana now and then, “but it isn’t affecting my grades. They said it was ok.”
According to the speakers, national research shows one of the the highest risk periods for youthful alcohol and narcotics abuse was from 3-6 pm, when school is over and working parents have not yet returned home.
Healthy Youth Activity Needed
Ms. Buchbinder mentioned that RADAR had piloted an afternoon youth social event in the new MHS cafeteria. There were ping pong tables, music for dancing, food and soft drinks. A local skateboard store brought in ramps and slides and extra skateboards. “The kids loved it,” she said. (See: New Teen Cafe Offers Zumba, Food and Boarding)
And why can’t a canteen of this kind be continued, she was asked. “It will be continued,” she answered. “Nine of these ‘After School at the Café’ events will be held in the next school year.”
The schools can’t solve the problem alone, nor can the police nor even the parents, emphasized Mr. Stern. “It has to be a cohesive effort by the whole community.” Two good steps in that direction, he said, are the local Community Task Force on Teen Issues and the Youth Advisory Council, both formed last autumn.
Ernie Odierna, a trustee in Mamaroneck Town, said the community shouldn’t lose sight of engaging “local grandparent power.” Larchmont Trustee Anne McAndrews suggested more emphasis on youth community service, possibly as a school effort. “Of course, it has to be the kids’ idea, but it will make them feel better about themselves,” she said.
The Local Summit, which hosted the meeting, is an informal community council that seeks to make the community a better place to live for everyone. Its regular monthly meetings will reconvene in September at 7:45 a.m., on the third Tuesday of the month at the Nautilus Diner.