CASTLE ROCK – Peer pressure can be excruciatingly intense, especially when the message is about having fun.
Many teens feel compelled to drink, do drugs and engage in other risky behaviors during prom, following graduation and at other times because they feel like “everyone else is doing it” or that it is just a part of having a good time.
“It still can be the best night, but it doesn't have to include alcohol and other drugs,” explained Carrie Veatch of Mothers Against Drunk Driving. “I know that is hard to think about, even for adults—because of our society—but it really does not have to include those substances. You can still have fun without them.”
Veatch and other youth safety advocates say research shows that most kids are not engaging in these at-risk behaviors and they are doing everything they can to get that message out.
“I think what a lot of the social norming campaigns are doing is important. I know a lot of parents are afraid that their kids are hanging out with the bad crowd. We find that is not necessarily true,” Veatch said.
A number of studies have shown that the overestimation of peer alcohol and cigarette use is widespread among students of middle and high school. Other research has found that overestimation of peer use is a significant predictor of adolescent cigarette and alcohol use, and that adolescent onset of use can be significantly delayed by reducing misperceptions of alcohol and cigarette use among peers.
At the beginning of the year, many Douglas County middle and high school students take a survey, which asks them whether they engage in these activities and if so, how often. More information about the DCSD social norm project is available here
. School administrators use the information to begin addressing any problems they see, while student groups work to share the message that kids are in good company if they are not drinking, doing drugs or having sex.
Veatch says positive peer pressure can be just as influential as the negative kind.
“Kids kind of have a misperception of how many of their friends are drinking, and they think more of their friends are drinking, so it's a cycle. If we are able to show them the statistics of how many kids are engaging in good behavior and not drinking, that will encourage them to abstain from substances like this,” she explained.
That being said, national statistics show that alcohol and drug use is not something that should be taken lightly. Below are some statistics provided by MADD:
- About one in three eighth-graders has tried alcohol.
- One in five teens binge drinks, yet only one in 100 parents think their kids binge drink.
- Teen alcohol use kills about 6,000 people a year, more than all illegal drugs combined.
- Car crashes are the leading cause of death for teens, and more than one out of three of those are alcohol-related.
- Kids who start drinking young are seven times more likely to be in an alcohol-related crash.
The statistics tell the underage drinking story loud and clear. So does another fact:
- 74 percent of kids turn to their parents for guidance about drinking.
“I can go into schools and I can tell students all day long to make good choices and I hope some of that sticks, but at the same time mom and dad, or the caregiver is the person at home that is influencing them. Just to have those conversations, to not be afraid to have those conversations and that it is okay to reach out for help,” Veatch said.
As part of this ongoing Spring Safety series, we’ve assembled many resources to help prepare parents for these sometimes tough conversations.
Veatch and the other youth advocates we spoke with say it is important to balance the message with trust.
“I don't think we give teenagers enough credit. I work with teenagers and I absolutely believe in them and I understand that we all make bad choices but we do that as adults too. I really want to instill in them the ability and the faith that they can make good choices. I think the more that we are willing to trust them, the better choices they're going to make,” Veatch said.
“The last thing we want to do is preach to these kids,” added Deputy Vance Fleet of the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office, who works as the School Resource Officer at Mountain Vista High School. “They're young adults. I call them young adults in training. The thing of it is we can tell them until we are blue in the face, 'hey don't do this, don't do that,’ but ultimately they are going to make the decision on what they're going to do. What I like to point out to them is the consequences that they can possibly face if they choose to engage in this at-risk behavior, like underage drinking, smoking marijuana any type of drug activity. They need to slow down and think about it.”