Wednesday, October 30, 2002

Teens talk to legislators about drugs

Published in the Current and the American Journal

Seven students from Cape Elizabeth High School participated in a videoconference with the Maine Legislative Youth Advisory Council Oct. 18 to give legislators some insight on why kids use drugs and alcohol.

Students from Belfast Area High School also participated in the event, which used Cape’s videoconferencing link from the old lecture hall room.

Also participating were members of the public, who used the opportunity to address legislators in Augusta. Sen. Lynn Bromley and Rep. Janet McLaughlin were on hand in Cape for the discussion as well.

Adam Welch, a senior at Belfast, said he had recently stopped drinking because he found it affected his studies, but said easy access to alcohol makes it hard for young people to resist.

“The solution here is that you have to relate to (young people) on some level,” Welch told the group.

Kate Perkins, who does social work in western and midcoast Maine, said parents model bad behavior, by drinking and driving themselves – even with the kids in the car. Other problems, she said, include alcohol advertising and uneven enforcement of drinking laws.

“You can’t expect the schools to do it all,” Perkins said.

A teacher from the Belfast school asked the students at her location and in Cape what relationships they found most influential in their decisions about drug and alcohol use. A student at Belfast said friendships were most influential, especially those in middle school and elementary school, when kids are defining themselves. By high school age, he said, many kids are set in their ways and are hard to influence.

Sarah Groff, a junior at CEHS, talked about a class she is taking called “health forum,” with Andrea Cayer. The class, she said, has discussed mental illness, suicide prevention, drug and alcohol use and other topics. She said Cayer began the class by saying, “You can’t teach students not to drink. You can make them aware and see the consequences.”

Groff said students do need to be made more aware, and that statistics aren’t enough. Personal stories from fellow students are influential, she said.

She mentioned Cape Life, a new program begun by Cape teacher and coach Andy Strout, to provide alternative social activities for teenagers, as one possible way to handle the issue.

Scott Caras, also a Cape junior, said his classmates and friends are part of his decision-making process. “By far the most important relationship is with your friends and with your peers that you look up to,” Caras said.

He said it is important for young people to see their role models making good choices, something that is not always the case now.

Caras also said sports teams can play a strong role in keeping kids from drinking, but can also have the opposite effect.

“It’s hard when a couple of kids (on a team) choose not to use drugs and alcohol,” he said.

Caras said the coach’s role in decision-making should not be underestimated.

“The coach can tip the balance of kids on the fence,” he said, by recognizing efforts not to drink or do drugs.

Enforcement is difficult, Caras said, because so much of it depends on students themselves turning in their friends. If the students on a team don’t take the no-alcohol contract seriously, there will be no enforcement. Again, he said, the coach can make a difference there, but without student support, he said, a contract won’t be enforced.

The Maine Legislative Youth Advisory Council, a permanent committee of the Legislature, is working on ways to prevent substance abuse in young people throughout the state, and used the comments from the videoconference as part of their research.