By Lisa Capobianco
STEPS (Southington Town Wide Effort to Promote Success) recently unveiled the results of its biennial Attitudes and Behavior Survey from the Search Institute that local seventh, ninth and eleventh graders took last fall.
The survey, consisting of 160 questions, helps measure social and emotional help of young individuals to show the level of external support they feel from all parts of the community, and internal strengths that help youth make healthy decisions. During a community forum held at the Aqua Turf Club last week, leaders and members of STEPS from all walks of life shared the results of the survey with the public, highlighting positive and negative trends found among Southington students who responded.
The survey covered additional risk taking behaviors, including attempted suicide, riding with an intoxicated driver and using other illicit drugs once or more in the last 12 months. While the results indicate an overall decrease in additional risk taking behaviors like shoplifting, riding with an intoxicated driver and taking other illicit drugs, they did show a 4 percent increase in attempted suicide one or more times from the time students took the survey in year one (2009) and when they took the survey again in year five of the survey (2013).
“We are extremely worried about this statistic,” said Heather Bartley, a parent and member of the STEPS Advisory Board. “We all need to recommit ourselves to young people in this town to reach out to them on a daily basis.”
STEPS used the survey to measure students’ use of prescription drugs, marijuana and alcohol. The survey questions addressed four core measures: past 30 day use, youth perception of risk, youth perception of parental disapproval and youth perception of peer disapproval.
Prescription drugs served as one area of the survey which STEPS collected data for the first time.
“It’s a bigger problem than adults know or really understand,” said STEPS Coordinator Kelly Leppard at the forum. “Permissiveness and lax attitudes coupled with teens’ easy access to prescription medications and their availability in medicine cabinets in homes of friends and family make them that much easier to misuse and abuse.”
According to the survey results, 1 percent of seventh graders reported using prescription drugs at least once in the last 30 days immediately preceding the survey date, compared to 3 percent of ninth graders and 6 percent of eleventh graders, all showing an overall decline. Youth Perception of parental disapproval and peer disapproval remained consistent among youth in the survey, as the majority of them responded that their parents and peers would feel that regular use of prescription drugs is wrong.
In order to ensure that use of prescription drugs by Southington youth does not grow in the future, STEPS reflected on different ways it could accomplish this, noting the success of the medical drop box, which was installed into the lobby of the Southington Police Department in 2012.
“The purpose of this was to dispose expired and unwanted medications in a safe, secure, anonymous, legal and environmental-friendly way,” said STEPS Advisory Board Member John Dobbins, adding that this year, an annual “Take Back Day” will not take place, as STEPS has transitioned into the medical drop box on a permanent basis. “In 2013, we took in 900 pounds… and our grand total now is approaching 1,300 pounds of medications collected.”
Although the survey showed an overall decline in the past 30-day use of marijuana, it also showed an overall decline of the youth perception of risk. For instance, when 11th graders took the survey during the first year it was administered (2009), 71 percent responded that there is a great risk in smoking marijuana once or twice a week. This number dropped by 19 percent during year 5 of the survey (2013).
“After we received the data from our November survey, we thought that there were too many unanswered questions regarding the perception of harm among our students for marijuana usage,” said Southington High School Teacher Nancy Chiero at the forum.
In response to these results, 11 high school students, along with the help of the high school’s audio/visual coordinator, created a video to explore reasons why local teenagers may not perceive marijuana as harmful as research reports it to be. These students, unidentified in the video, answered a series of questions about current marijuana laws in Connecticut, the level of marijuana accessibility in Southington and whether or not they noticed any changes in the attitudes of their peers since marijuana laws changed.
“We did this to clarify this data—we thought that their response to our questions would perhaps shed some light on reasons why our teens perceive marijuana usage is not as harmful as we know it truly is,” Chiero said, adding that the students’ answers were surprising. “We found that high school kids are not aware of the research that’s been done which studies the harmful effects of marijuana on the brain, they’re not aware of the current laws surrounding marijuana usage…and nor were they familiar with the consequences if they get caught with it.”
STEPS also reported an overall decrease of students drinking alcohol at least once in the 30 days immediately preceding the survey as well as an overall increase in their youth perception of risk and parental disapproval. The survey also indicated how students obtained alcohol by grade. For instance, the majority of eleventh graders who reported drinking alcohol said they obtained alcohol at home with or without permission from parents, as well as from their peers, according to survey results. The majority of ninth graders reported that they receive alcohol from their peers and also from home without their parents’ permission. The majority of seventh graders reported that they obtained alcohol from their peers.
For Shane Mosko of Southington, this part of the survey hits home. Mosko, a guest speaker of the forum, was ejected 30-feet out of his car, and suffered several back injuries. Mosko drove home drunk after meeting up with a group of friends.
“I ended up running a stop sign and I was going pretty fast—I ended up coming down a hill and from there I don’t really remember… I ended up on the other side of the street and that’s where I tried to correct myself…and shot right into the guard rail,” said Mosko, adding that accident left him with several different back injuries. “I just remember waking up in the hospital 30 days later.”
Sharing pictures of his days in the hospital with the community, Mosko said he feels blessed to be alive.
“I never experienced anything quite like that in my life,” said Mosko, adding that he drove intoxicated behind the wheel previously. “It could have been so much worse than what it was.”