The kids are all right

March 22, 2014

Do you ever wonder what is “normal” for teenagers?

We Americans are plugged into social media and monitor pop culture almost as an obsession.

Teens in particular are affected to an unanticipated extent. If your view of normal arises from YouTube videos, Facebook entries and reality TV shows then you may get the feeling that you are being left out.

Does it seem that everyone else is having more fun? Is this the case with teens and substance abuse?

What is normal for teens is also colored by advertising. We can all agree that retailers spend fortunes marketing to their demographic groups and that media has a youth focus.

Alcoholic beverage companies clearly target youth though they claim not. Stripped of any wording, 5-year-olds correctly identify the logo for Budweiser.

All try to paint a picture that consumption of their product is cool, makes you look better, and that your friends all smoke and drink.

There is a disproportionate amount of alcohol advertising spent on youth. A lot of this is in magazines, radio and other traditional sources. The biggest marketing front, however, is with social media.

Alcohol companies use Facebook to interact with teens while pushing their brands. They are masters at it. Don’t believe me? Ask your teenager about Captain Morgan.

Teens perceive that others are drinking, and perception is their reality.

So what do teens think about smoking, alcohol and drug abuse? When asked about themselves they report that 70 percent have never smoked, but they think that number is only 43 percent for their close friends.

Their perception is that tobacco and marijuana use is 25 percent higher among their close friends than it really is. That is a big gap. Alcohol is similar, but the gap is not as large.

What is normal?

Our perception may be one thing, but the facts show that most teens don’t want to have anything to do with tobacco, alcohol and drugs. If you want to lump all three together you could say that 60 percent of teens do not abuse tobacco, drugs or alcohol. Even if they try it once, most give it up.

Alcohol, which is the number one choice for abuse, is illustrative. Most teens will try it once, but a measure of abuse is whether or not it is repetitive. When asked if they have tried alcohol in the last month 75 percent of our teens said no.

Our Substance Abuse Council has worked with high school students who help make Teen Court work. They volunteer their time as teen attorneys and jurors to hear real cases involving youth misdemeanors. Those kids are fantastic.

So are the representatives of Granbury High School and Tolar High School that are helping us get the message out that substance abuse among teens is not the norm. They have formed a group called T-MAD, which stands for Teens Making A Difference.

Perception is reality for most people. We have a lot of good kids in our community trying to navigate their way through the difficult teen years. The fact is that most of them want nothing to do with tobacco, drugs or alcohol.

The kids are all right.

The Hood County Substance Council (HCSAC) is dedicated to the prevention of substance abuse and is affiliated with the United Way of Hood County.

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