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Survey: Darien Teen Drug Use Starting Younger

DARIEN, Conn. – A survey of Darien teens shows that more are engaging in risky behaviors such as alcohol, marijuana and tobacco use at a younger age. Less than half of all teens feel that adults in town value young people and give them useful roles in the community.

The survey was created by the Search Institute and measures external assets resources such as family support and positive peer influence, as well as internal qualities such as motivation and personal restraint. It also tracks risky behaviors and success in academics.

The survey was conducted in the fall by the Thriving Youth Task Force , a group made up of school and town officials, members of law enforcement, clergy and other organizations in town.

Martha Rhein, coordinator of Thriving Youth , and Alicia Sillars, the town’s youth director , believe that building relationships between youth and adults is one of the most important aspects of keeping kids from risky behavior.

“We try to make people in the community aware that kids have a role, and they have to feel valued,” Sillars said.

According to the survey, 42 percent of seventh-graders feel the community values youth. That number drops to 23 percent by the time they reach 12th grade. Fifty-one percent of seventh-graders said they feel the presence of positive adult role models, compared with 29 percent of 12th graders.

“We are role models for these kids. Not just our kids, but all kids, and we have to ask ourselves, are we exhibiting good behavior?” Rhein said.

The group last conducted the survey in 2008, and Sillars said one of the best byproducts was the creation of the Youth Asset Team , a group of teens who work with adults to promote positive behavior in students.

Pressures to excel in school and sports probably play a large role in students taking part in risky behaviors, Rhein and Sillars both said.

“I think there’s a lot of pressure on adults, and there’s modeling that goes on with youths,” Sillars said. Whether kids turn to alcohol, marijuana or prescription drugs, “the drug of choice may change, but the belief that there’s a need to reduce stress is still there.”

Thriving Youth has given grants to groups such as the Darien Land Trust, the YWCA, the YMCA and the Darien Arts Center to create projects to get youths and adults working together. They are also planning to create focus groups with students to see their reactions to the survey results and finding ways to reduce risky behavior.

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