According to an anonymous survey of 1,800 middle school and high school students in the fall of 2017, a majority of all youth said they do not regularly drink alcohol (84.5%), use marijuana (91.8%) or smoke tobacco (96.1%). Alcohol and tobacco use are at an all-time low and trending downward, according to the Pennsylvania Youth Survey, which is administered to 6th, 8th, 10th and 12 graders every other year.
The survey were released May 28 at a town hall meeting in Perkasie organized by the Pennridge Area Healthy Youth Coalition. School districts officials joined community leaders to review the results and brainstorm ways to keep the numbers moving in the right direction.
“We are showing signs of progress,” said Lee Rush, executive director of justCommunity. “The fact is, fewer young people are smoking, drinking or using drugs.”
Previous 30-day alcohol use by 12th graders, for example, has dropped from a high of about 57% in 2008 to about 38% in 2017. Among 8th graders, it has dropped from a peak of about 22% in 2000 to about 8 percent in 2017.
Meanwhile, previous 30-day marijuana use by 12th graders has dropped from a high of about 30% in 2014 to about 22% in 2017.
Finally, smoking among 10th graders has dropped from about 35% in 2002 to about 10% in 2017. Tobacco use among 8th graders is only about 1%.
Rush credited the Pennridge School District for taking proactive steps to address problems in the community by adding social workers and counselors to its staff at both the middle school and high school levels.
Making healthy choices is also a regular part of the curriculum, he said.
“Students need a responsible adult to talk to when they are feeling pressure,” said Rush. “It can be a parent, an older sibling, a coach, a pastor. But having access to services at the school is a major advantage.”
Pennridge Superintendent David A. Bolton he is “thrilled” that the district has the opportunity to work with organizations such as the Pennridge Healthy Youth Coalition. The district is passionate about social and emotional learning in schools and continues to emphasize this through curriculum, increased staffing dedicated to student mental health, and programming such as Rachel’s Challenge, he said.
“It is essential for us to collaborate with all community resources to best support our students and the entire Pennridge Community,” he said.
Not all the news is positive, however. About 40 members of the Class of 2020, who were 10th graders at the time of the survey, said they attempted suicide one of more times in previous years. Even 6th graders showed a slight increase from about 3% in 2016 and a bit over 4% in 2018.
Rush said those numbers reinforce why it is important for young people to have resources available to deal with the realities of modern life, mostly pressure created through reliance on social media.
In fact, a focus group with Pennridge secondary students before the survey results were announced identified social media as the number-one issue that created pressure in their lives. Smoking and drinking are glamorized in social media posts, causing some students to go against their own values and conscience and not think about the consequences. The party culture is depicted, and often accepted, as the norm, they said.
Another area of concern is vaping (eCigarettes). Between 2016 and 2018, the number of 12th graders who said they vape increased from about 30% to about 37% while 10th graders increased from about 20% to 30%. Only 8th graders showed a decrease, from about 12% to about 9%.
Reasons to Celebrate
A majority of youth do not regularly (prior 30 days) drink alcohol (84.5%), use marijuana (91.8%), or use tobacco products (96.1%).
Previous 30-day alcohol use among 12th graders has decreased from an all-time high of 57% in 2008 to 35.6% in 2018, a 38% relative reduction.
Previous 30-day alcohol use among all youth is at its lowest levels in the past 20 years (8.4% of 8th graders, 23.5% of 10th graders, 35.6% of 12th graders.
Reasons to stay connected
Binge drinking (five or more drinks in one sitting) rate for 12th graders remains at about 1 out of every 5.
36 members of the Class of 2018 (about 550 students) said they have driven a vehicle after using marijuana within the previous year.
10.6 percent of 12th graders, 7.3% of 10th graders and 3.2 of 8th graders say they have attended school drunk or high.
While the popular perception might be that today’s teenagers cruise through life with a beer in one hand and a joint in the other, quite the opposite is true, at least for Pennridge School District students.