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Produced & Maintained by Idaho Mountain Express, Box 1013, Ketchum, ID 83340-1013 
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Copyright © 2002 Express Publishing Inc.
All Rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part in any form or medium without express written permission of Express Publishing Inc. is prohibited. 

For the week of September 11 - 17, 2002


Risky teen 
behavior measured

Survey shows youth 
substance abuse down

"They’re pretty alarmingly high numbers, but the trend is improving."

ANGENIE McLEARY, Blaine County’s Youth Adult Konnection (YAK!) coordinator

Express Staff Writer

Alcohol, cigarette and marijuana use among Blaine County teens has dropped over the past five years, according to a survey conducted last March, but remains higher than in other south-central Idaho counties.

The Search Institute, a Minnesota-based non-profit organization active around the country, surveyed 1,396 local students in grades 6-12. The recently received results pose an interesting comparison to the results of a similar study done in 1998.

"They’re pretty alarmingly high numbers, but the trend is improving," said Blaine County’s Youth Adult Konnection (YAK!) Coordinator Angenie McLeary.

The survey measured the extent of 15 categories of risky behavior among teens, as well as 40 positive assets in their lives considered by those who work with youths to reduce such behavior. The incidence of most assets was shown to be slightly higher than in 1998.



Drug and alcohol use

  • The percentage of youth reporting they had used alcohol at least once in the past 30 days dropped from 44 percent in 1998 to 31 percent now. However, 42 percent of juniors and 39 percent of seniors reported having been drunk at least once in the past two weeks. Average level of alcohol use in the past 30 days among teens throughout eight counties in south-central Idaho was 20 percent.

  • Eighty-four percent of seniors reported having attended a party during the past year at which alcohol was used. Twenty-eight percent of them reported that at least three times during the past year, they rode in a car with a driver who had been drinking.

  • The percentage of those reporting having smoked cigarettes in the past 30 days dropped from 24 percent in 1998 to 13 percent now.

  • Marijuana use, at least once in the past year, decreased from 32 percent in 1998 to 24 percent now. That compares to a figure of 18 percent in all eight counties surveyed.

In interviews with the Mountain Express, adults who work with youths credited the drops in substance use to the creation of several local youth programs and facilities, including after-school activities, the Romancing the Bean coffee house, the Friday night teen bus and skate parks in Ketchum and Hailey.

"Overall, I think we’re a really fortunate community to have the resources and the caring that we do," said Tod Gunter, social worker at the Blaine County Middle School and Silver Creek Alternative School.

After-school study and recreational activities take place at the Middle School on Tuesdays and Thursdays for kids having academic problems or whose parents aren’t home at that time. Gunter said about 25 kids attend those. On Wednesday afternoons, about a dozen students meet in a program called the Youth Circle Council to discuss things happening in their lives.

"The research behind after-school programs shows they are a huge prevention mechanism for youths," Gunter said.

He said he’s applying for grant money from the federal Department of Education to expand the activities to include game clubs, such as chess clubs, and a Friday afternoon movie as a reward for those who attended earlier in the week.

The Romancing the Bean coffee house, held Friday nights at he Silver Creek Alternative School, shut down at the end of last school year after three years of operation. McCleary said it was never viewed as more than a temporary arrangement, and she expects something similar but better to get started at the current Wood River High School building when the new school opens next fall. Her intent, she said, is to get lots of kids involved in the planning.

Despite the creation of such programs, only 33 percent of teens surveyed said they thought their school provided a caring, encouraging environment. That number was up from 31 percent in 1998.




  • Twenty-five percent of youths surveyed reported having shoplifted at least once during the past year.

  • Twenty-seven percent of boys reported having committed an act of vandalism during the past year.

  • Only 61 percent of youths reported feeling safe at home, in school and in their neighborhood.

Blaine County Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Justin Whatcott, who handles juvenile prosecutions, said he isn’t surprised by the amount of shoplifting and vandalism reported, though he rarely sees cases of either crime.

"Most of the time, I think kids are pretty good at doing that without getting caught," he said.

Whatcott said most of the cases he does see are minor.

Monica Cornelissen, manager of The Drug Store at Alturas Plaza in Hailey, said she frequently sees evidence of shoplifting there, but, so far at least, has devoted little time to catching the perpetrators. Those she does catch, about one person per month, are most often teens, she said.

Social worker Gunter said he is concerned about youths’ perceptions that their daily environments are not safe. However, he said, reports of threats and violence almost always involve shoving and other relatively minor incidents.



Community life

  • Only 25 percent said they feel the community values youth. However, that’s up from 21 percent in 1998.

  • Only 28 percent said they think adults in their lives provide models of positive, responsible behavior.

In addition to the recently created recreational programs, McLeary attributed the small improvement in youths’ perception of how the community views them to their increased inclusion in local decision making. About 30 kids participate in the Blaine County Teen Advisory Council, which organizes and promotes projects to benefit youths. A teen advisor has also been added to the Hailey City Council.

With all that is being done, many adults probably wonder why more youths don’t feel valued by their community. Hailey social worker Robert Payne offers an explanation.

"Adolescents have a belief in a universal audience," he said. They think everybody’s looking at them, and interpret many of those looks as negative.

That may be an impossible hurdle to overcome, but Payne urges adults to try to put aside their natural difficulty in approaching teens and talk more to kids other than their own.

Gunter said support from all levels in kids’ lives—family, school and community—helps them build resiliency—one of the most important factors in getting through life successfully.



Home life

  • Seventy-five percent of those polled said family life provides high levels of love and support. However, only 39 percent said they have positive communication with their parents and can seek advice from them.

  • Twenty-six percent reported some degree of physical abuse at home.

  • Fifteen percent reported having tried to commit suicide.

Payne sees no contradiction between most kids’ feeling they have a supportive home life, yet feeling unable to communicate with their parents. Part of that is teens’ desire to figure things out on their own, but part can be a parenting deficiency as well. Even though most parents express love, Payne said, they still have a tendency to lecture. He advises parents to address problems by asking open-ended questions—that is, those that require more than yes or no answer. For example, asking, "Why do you think many kids…?" And, he said, try to avoid going into lecture mode when you get an answer you don’t like.

He also advises that instead of lecturing, parents explain to kids how their offenses cause problems or hurt their parents’ feelings.

Addressing the fact that 26 percent of kids reported physical abuse, Payne said he doubts that figure represents ongoing abuse. Even good parents, he said, at some point lose their temper and hit their kids.

Ed Jones, Idaho Department of Health and Welfare superintendent for child protection in Blaine and Camas counties, said he agrees with that. However, he said, his department becomes involved with about five new cases of child abuse or neglect every month.

Under the state’s Child Protection Act, the state can step in only when a judge finds physical evidence of abuse. Jones said he sees about two cases per month of what he considers actual abuse that don’t reach the required level of injury, and can do nothing in those cases without parental cooperation.

Upon the filing of a petition by the county prosecutor, a judge can order kids removed from their parents. When that occurs, Jones said, his job is to devise a program that requires parents to address whatever issues are involved.

"If they meet them and the risk goes down, then we petition the court to put the child back in the home," he said.

The state can keep kids in a foster home for 15 months before it must resubmit in court justification for further involvement.

Most of the time, Jones said, parents cooperate.

"They know they’ve got a problem and want some help."

Social worker Payne said he thinks that in most of the cases of the 15 percent of kids who reported having tried to commit suicide, the motive was anger, not a desire to kill themselves. They’re "suicidal gestures," he said, not "suicide attempts." He interprets those gestures not so much as a cry for attention, but as "the ultimate screw you," delivered out of a sense of frustration.



Gender differences

  • Of 40 categories of positive assets, 30 were reported of higher frequency among girls than among boys.

  • Twenty-seven percent of girls reported being frequently depressed, compared with 17 percent of boys.

Positive assets included family and community support, safety, youth programs, self-esteem and skills in resisting negative influences.

Middle School social worker Gunter said girls tend to do better in most of life’s organized situations than do boys—they feel more supported by their teachers and do better academically. They also mature faster and have fewer behavior problems.

McLeary said that about 90 percent of the participants on the Blaine County Teen Advisory Council are girls.



The future

"I think we have a good start in our community," Payne said. "We have things better understood and in good focus."

Janelle Grider, an Americorps volunteer with YAK!, said youths with whom she has discussed the survey said they were surprised to see that reality is better than the image.

"One of our goals is to change adults’ perceptions of kids," she said. "You don’t see the ones who are at the city council meetings or spending their time volunteering."

Payne agrees.

"There are so many bright kids in our community," he said, "good kids. They have much more wisdom than we had at their age, and they’re so much more psychologically aware."

Though he hopes to see continual progress, Payne said the community will probably never reach the goal of getting all our kids to the point at which we would like to see them. It’s a process, he said, not a destination.



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