Good news, bad news in youth survey |

Good news, bad news in youth survey

Scott N. Miller

EAGLE COUNTY – Most of Eagle County’s kids say they’re doing pretty well. But too many drink and drive, and far too many contemplate suicide.With the results of the latest Eagle County Youth Assessment in hand, professionals in local schools, police departments and other agencies are trying to make sense of the numbers, then try to cut down some of the bad numbers.The survey, conducted between September and December of last year, was the third time local high schoolers have been asked about themselves since 2000. The survey was conducted on-line so students could log on at home or at school, and anonymity was assured.With the promise of a “blind” survey, 771 students, more than half of the Eagle County School District’s high schoolers, participated. While most local teens exercise, believe school is important, and say they have firm rules at home, there are disturbing numbers, too.More than one-third said they have had more than five alcoholic drinks in one sitting in the past month, a behavior defined as “binge drinking.” Nearly one-fourth said they had been in a car with drivers who had been drinking, and more than one-fourth of seniors said they had driven within two hours of drinking.Also in the “bad news” category is the data on depression and suicide. Nearly one-fourth of respondents said they had felt so depressed they considered suicide, and 12 percent of teens said they had actually attempted suicide.Spotting trouble earlierSince the first survey was completed, the Eagle River Youth Coalition has tried to tackle depression and suicidal tendencies in local teens. The group has landed a couple of grants from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment’s Office of Suicide Prevention. The main program was an “Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training,” which has so far included about 30 people, mostly school and private counselors, people from police departments and clergy, coalition director Beth Reilly said.”This for ‘training the trainers,'” Reilly said. “Now they’re trained to teach others about intervention skills.”At the top of the skills list are asking the right questions, then listening for answers. If a teen is thought to be in danger, counselors or friends need to know what the next steps are to help.Before kids need that help, though, there might be ways to head off suicidal behavior before it starts, Reilly said. Drinking can push kids prone to depression toward suicidal behavior, Reilly said. Reaching those kids before they start to drink may require identifying them before they hit high school. At a recent Eagle County School Board meeting, Reilly and others urged school administrators to help with efforts to find troubled kids while they’re still in middle school.”We believe issues start well before the ninth grade,” Vail Police Sgt. Joe Russell told the board. Russell, who has long been involved with the youth coalition and similar projects, said a survey of middle school kids similar to the one given to high schoolers could be valuable.Appealing to parentsYouth coalition representatives also asked the school board to serve as the central point to bring together numerous groups to share what they know.”We need to address these things in a cohesive way,” Jeanne McQueeney said. McQueeney, who volunteered to help Reilly with interviews and data collection about teen drinking, said professionals she’s talked to have a good knowledge of the number of local kids who drink. Parents, though, are another matter.”What I’m hearing is that a lot of people don’t feel like the community really gets it,” McQueeney said.And, at least with some parents, there seems to be a real lack of understanding. Russell said he’s heard some disturbing news while he’s worked with Holly Woods of the Avon-based CARESGroup, Inc. on a different youth study.”One parent actually hosted a party and charged kids a cover charge,” Russell said. Russell said he’s also heard numerous reports of parents hosting parties and providing liquor so kids could drink in a “safe” environment.”When we have kids with binge drinking problems, that’s scary,” Russell said.Are there answers?While there’s a lot of information about kids doing scary things, there aren’t a lot of solid answers. Russell, who has raised three kids in addition to his work with local police, said parents talking to parents is essential. “We need to clearly identify boundaries, then talk to other parents about what those boundaries are,” he said. That can help head off the old “Well, Tommy’s parents let him…” line so many kids use.Another part of keeping kids safe is changing perceptions, Reilly said.”Perceptions guide behavior,” Reilly said. Since the perception is that “everybody” is drinking, smoking or having sex, that makes it seem more “normal,” Reilly said. “And a large part of us wants to be ‘normal.'””If we can align perceptions with behavior, maybe we can effect some change,” she said.That’s easier said than done, though.”On Monday mornings, the kids who get the attention are the ones who partied over the weekend,” Reilly said. “That creates the perception that everybody’s doing it, and that’s what we need to change.” Staff Writer Scott N. Miller can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 613, or Daily, Vail Colorado

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