Teens are drinking less alcohol and smoking fewer cigarettes than in previous years but are smoking marijuana more, a survey revealed this week.
The prevalence of pot smoking, though rising, is nowhere near its heyday in 1978 when close to 40 percent of 12th-graders surveyed reported smoking marijuana in the previous month. This survey says just under 23 percent of 12th-graders reported smoking pot in the past month. One in 15 reported daily use.
For public health officials, the seesaw effect is frustrating: Focus attention on cigarette dangers and alcohol use rises; focus attention on binge-drinking and pot use spikes. Experimentation among teens seems to be the only constant.
What may most affect the experiment of choice, according to this survey, are attitudes. Where there was a rise in pot use, there was a decline in teens’ perceived risk of harm. Those attitudes are affected by society at large — some respondents talked of how marijuana is now being prescribed for medical use — and from another major influence: parents.
Though teenagers may not seem as if they pay much attention to their parents, studies have found time and again that they do.
The 1997 National Household Survey on Drug Abuse found a direct correlation between an adolescent’s perception of their parents’ attitude toward certain drugs and the teen’s use of the drug. If a child thought his parent would be very upset, he was far less likely to try or use a drug. If he perceived that a parent would be only mildly concerned, he was much more likely to use it.
“Fewer programs and less support for prevention all mean that getting through to teens now sits squarely and almost solely with the parent,” Steve Pasierb, president of the Partnership at Drugfree.org, said in a statement in response to the survey.
“We know active, open communication between parents and kids is the most effective prevention tool. We need to remain vigilant and parents who know their child may be using need to intervene.”
What’s assumed in his comments — but may not be true across the board — is that all parents are terribly concerned about experimentation with pot.
Do the math on those 40 percent of 12th-graders from 1978 who reported smoking pot in the previous month, and you realize that those kids are now about 50 years old, many of them parents to teenagers.
Would those parents who smoked marijuana in high school be very upset if they found out their own kids were doing it?