Vail Valley Voices: Set kids up for success
Vail, CO, Colorado
If you are reading this article, you have probably heard the concerns in Colorado, and in our communities, about the increase in marijuana use by our children, specifically in the middle school and high school ages.
In fact, marijuana use by Eagle County teenagers is higher than national averages.
According to the 2009 Healthy Kids Colorado Survey, 29.2 percent of our Eagle County 12th-graders admitted using marijuana in their lifetime.
With the great debate about medical marijuana looming, other drugs are often overlooked in conversation. Eagle County High School students, according to the 2009 survey, are using cocaine and ecstasy at rates greater than national averages.
Let us not forget that one of the most dangerous (and legal if over 21 years of age) drugs is alcohol. Twenty-nine percent of our youth are reporting that they had their first drink (other than a few sips) when they were 13-14 years old, according to the 2009 survey.
The Eagle River Youth Coalition, a local non-profit organization, has recently completed the 2011 survey, with results expected in the spring of 2012. I hope that drug and alcohol use by our youth is less than the 2009 numbers, but I am concerned that the results will still be troubling.
Why the concern? The answer to this is multifold. Part of the concern is the biological and physiological youth development. Children are learning how to function in society while their young brains are in various developmental phases.
The introduction of drugs into their bodies negatively impacts their ability to learn, develop skills necessary to succeed, make good decisions, and is dangerous. The hard lessons with substance abuse is not only short term, but the long term effects can be just as damaging, if not worse in some cases. The poor decisions that youth seem to be making today not only negatively impacts their safety and reduces their learning capabilities, it holds a high potential for impacting future opportunities such as which college they may be admitted to or what employment opportunities are available to them.
Drugs (including marijuana) and alcohol impairs a person’s judgment and also their ability to divide attention (multitask). Drug use limits learning in school, impairs ability to drive motor vehicles (car crashes are leading causes of death for teenagers), and contributes to risky behavior, such as unwanted and underage sexual encounters.
Making the right decisions early in life, when the brain is developing, is paramount to children learning social skills and the difference between right and wrong. Introduction of chemical substances into these young bodies makes their decisions even more difficult and challenging.
How do we fix the problem of underage alcohol consumption and drug use? This is a huge question and has been addressed through many means such as laws, driver license suspensions, school sanctions, professional counseling, Drug Abuse Resistance Educationand many other excellent programs.
But the bottom line is that we as a community are still failing. How do we get there?
The answer is clear: You! Data have shown that teenagers are using drugs at higher rates than in the past, specifically marijuana, if it is accessible and acceptable.
As a community, let’s say no to the use of these drugs and set a positive example. Stopping the support of illegal drug use will make the statement that this behavior is not acceptable and thus, we make the drugs less accessible to our youth. However, this is simply the first step.
The second step is to actively support our youth by volunteering our time. There are so many excellent programs and mentorship opportunities that we as adults and leaders can get involved in that will help.
One key to actively participating in our community is to be involved in and support programs that support our youth. Some of these are: Eagle River Youth Coalition, school youth groups such as the Eagle Valley High School Devils Against Drinking and Drugs Club, SOS Outreach, WECMRD athletic programs, church youth groups, and so many more.
I challenge every adult in our community to take a couple hours, at the minimum, out of your weekly schedules to mentor, teach and lead our youth. Be a volunteer, be a coach, be a mentor, be a teacher, share a meal with a group of teenagers, talk to them, lead, be a friend!
There are many kids out there who are struggling with alcohol and drug addictions, and many more who are facing temptations.
You could be the one who helps keep them stay healthy or get back on the right path, and you can set these young boys and girls up for success by providing them the guidance and support to become productive members of our community.
I have one more challenge. This challenge is for the youth of our community who are abstaining from illegal drug and alcohol use. It’s important to acknowledge that the majority of our youth are making excellent decisions by staying away from drugs and alcohol, studying hard, and working to become future leaders.
For those youth who are doing the right thing, I challenge each of you to make a positive difference in the lives of your peers who are struggling. Be a positive role model, be a mentor, be a volunteer, be a friend, encourage participation in clubs-athletics, and continue to lead by example!
Robert Ticer, M.Ed., is an executive board member of the Eagle River Youth Coalition, youth sports coach, and Avon’s police chief.
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