A nationwide survey of 981 teenagers, sponsored by Uhlich Children's Home, a social services agency in Chicago, gives adults a D+ in their efforts to stop young people from drinking, smoking and using drugs. The grade, an indicator of performance that would get most young people grounded if they did as poorly in math, English or science, was the lowest of all the marks that teens awarded adults on a variety of subjects.
Adults were graded a C- for their efforts to deal with gangs, and a C+ for efforts to keep schools safe from violence and crime. The teens, aged 12-19, gave their elders their highest marks, a B-, for efforts toward job creation, education, fighting AIDS, preventing child abuse and spending time with their families.
Tom Vanden Berk, President of Uhlich Children's Home, told The Week Online that there is an urgent need to engage them in a dialogue.
"Prior to this survey, my own teenage daughter told me that 'just say no' was not something that she could relate to within the context of her day to day experience. We are preaching to our kids, we are spending billions in tax dollars, and yet we're not asking them whether what we're doing is working. What we found, both in the survey and in the focus groups that we put together to get more information, is that teens want good, solid information."
"In talking to the kids in the focus groups, we heard analogies drawn to AIDS education, which got a far higher grade in the survey than drug prevention. The kids noted that with regard to AIDS, they were given the facts in an honest, straightforward manner without the preaching. The teens indicated that they responded to that type of education better than the moralizing 'just say no' or DARE approach. According to the kids, drugs are everywhere around them, in their schools, in their faces. We need to establish a dialogue with kids, to find out what they respond to, what works, and how we can provide them with important information in a context that's relevant to their lives."
Bob Weiner, spokesman for Drug Czar Barry McCaffrey, told The Week Online that his office "completely agrees that parents need to do more talking with their kids about drugs." Mr. Weiner also noted that General McCaffrey "has consistently maintained that the most effective action in reducing youth drug use is parents talking to their teens around the kitchen table."
Asked whether the survey results were an indictment of drug education in America, Mr. Weiner replied that while the survey might be "fun to use," it was likely that in grading the older generation on things like stopping use drug use, kids might well seek to be "a little revolutionary" thus making it difficult to apply the results to real world situations.
The full results of the survey are available online at http://www.uhlich.org/reportcard/.