Teen drug and alcohol use sparks concern
Approximately 40 concerned parents gathered in a Tahoe-Truckee High School classroom to discuss drug and alcohol use among local youth last week.
The topic for the Very Interested Parents meeting was inspired after TTHS principal Dennis LeBlanc said there would be no more dances on school property for the time being. According to assistant principal Mike Finney, who was at the VIP meeting, after the Winter Ball in December custodians found more than 20 empty bottles of alcohol under the bleachers, two students had been caught smoking marijuana in the bathroom and there were rumors that large numbers of students had been under the influence of “Ecstasy,” a designer drug students say is the current trend among teens.
“We can’t be responsible for this,” Finney said to parents at the meeting. “The reason I have been coming to the dances is because I like being around kids when they’re having fun. This isn’t fun … Now it’s serious, it’s substance abuse.”
Other guest speakers at the meeting included Nevada County Superior Court Judge Andy Holmer, Nevada County Sheriff’s Office Sgt. Kevin Harper, Truckee-Donner Recreation and Park District Teen Coordinator Chuck Halladay and TDRPD General Manager Steve Randall.
The Winter Ball was held in the TTHS gymnasium and sponsored by TDRPD.
“There were several incidences where kids were being extremely rude to the chaperones,” Halladay said. “I did see a lot of kids under the influence of a drug that I wasn’t familiar with. Through Parks and Rec we’ve never had to deal with problems like this. We’re not prepared to deal with the amount of drug use and alcohol abuse we’re seeing.”
Halladay challenged parents at the meeting to come up with some solutions to the teens’ substance abuse.
Judge Holmer said juvenile judges he’s talked with in other communities have told him to be thankful Truckee youth just have a drug and alcohol problem. He said we don’t have a gang problem, kids aren’t carrying weapons around and aren’t involved in violent crimes in this community.
He also said it is frustrating because without a juvenile hall in the area, it’s difficult to punish.
“What we see is an inability to enact punishment,” he said. “The reality is in many cases, it’s a delayed consequence and in some an ineffectual consequence.” He said it takes anywhere from four to six months after an incident occurs before it gets to court.
TTHS senior Sara Ford was one of the only students at the meeting. She said that students know what they can get away with. She estimated that as many as 75 percent of the students at the dance were using drugs or alcohol.
“People have this idea they can get away with it and they are getting away with it,” she said. “It’s hard to find someone at the dances that hasn’t been smoking pot, drinking or on whatever. Kids see what they get away with. If people get into trouble, if they know they will get caught and punished, it will slow down.”
Holmer said the challenge is to turn the policy from “a do not get caught policy to a do not do it policy.”
Parents had different suggestions as to what they thought the problems were and how to solve them.
“It’s not just the dance, it’s an everyday occurrence at the high school,” said one parent. “We as a community need to learn new tactics on how to deal with these issues and come together to help our kids.”
A few parents said part of the problem is many students get out of school as early as 12:30 p.m., and have nothing to do the rest of the afternoon.
One parent was frustrated that sports, one of the only things for teens to do in town, has teams with the same 20 students each year.
“I think what’s lacking with these kids is a sense of reward for being a good kid,” said one parent.
Sgt. Harper said that overall, the Truckee community has had minimal problems with juveniles. Teens make up approximately 5 percent of NCSO’s customers, he said.
“Truckee has good kids,” he said.
Laurie Martin, Director of Community and Youth Development for Tahoe-Truckee Unified School District, said that these same discussions have come up before. She said the issue of substance abuse among local teens is a community issue.
“It takes everyone in the community to participate with our youth in some respect,” she said. It can be the little things like saying hello to kids on the street to mentoring in the schools.
“The more caring adults a child has in his life, the more resilient they are and the more likely they are to make better choices,” she said.
Martin referred to the Asset Model, which includes 40 developmental external and internal assets defined by the Search Institute that are the building blocks of healthy development that help young people grow up healthy, caring and responsible. External assets include support, empowerment, boundaries and expectations and constructive use of time. Internal assets include commitment to learning, positive values, social competencies and positive identity.
“Sometimes I think the community is afraid of youth instead of valuing their opinions and input,” she said. “The core piece is a community belief around valuing youth and community norms around drugs and alcohol use.”
In terms of parents’ roles, she said, it’s still about communicating with their kids.
“Realistic and frequent communication is so important,” Martin said. “Sometimes parents don’t feel empowered to intervene.”
At the meeting, some parents signed up to form a committee to brainstorm ideas on how to address these issues and take community action. For questions or information, call Robin Wood at 587-4779, or Stacy Giannetto at 587-1304.
What do the students think?
TTHS students expressed a variety of opinions as to the drug and alcohol use among their peers. Some felt substance abuse has escalated in the past few years, others don’t consider it so much a problem.
But most students interviewed agreed that drugs and alcohol were being used by all groups, not just one specific group.
“I don’t think it (drug and alcohol use) has really increased,” said senior Brad Noel. “I have talked to parents who have said they did the same things that we do back then.”
Senior Abbey Whitfield disagreed.
“I think drug use has increased a lot,” she said. “My sister went to high school four years ago. There was a select group using then. Now it’s the majority of the students using. And now it’s not just pot and alcohol.”
Some students said that drugs are easily available in this town, and recently Ecstasy has been the “trendy drug.”
“We’re right on the state line,” said senior Mat Eskridge. “Everything that’s going east or west comes through here. We are like a border town.”
He said that he thinks that hard drug use has decreased overall.
Senior Michelle Stock said she noticed that drug use increased among people she knew, when she went away for a year to study abroad. When she came back, she noticed drug use was everywhere.
“It just blows me away,” she said. “It has increased so much in my eyes with the people I know.”
Some students said that drug and alcohol use is a typical phase teens go through in high school.
“About Ecstasy, I think it’s like a trend,” said senior Michelle Monise. “It’s really popular at the dances, because it makes the dances more fun. But it’s not as popular now. People are realizing the effects it has on your body.”
Suggestions to respond to substance abuse issues included more activities for teens, opening the lines of communication with their parents and having someone available to talk to at school.
“I don’t think there is a solution,” said senior Jillian Marchi. “It has to come from the home. Parents shouldn’t be hypocritical. Our parents did these things when they were young too.”
“What parents should influence is how to be safe,” said senior MacKenzie Harrison. “Every kid is going to experiment. Parents should be there to help them.”
“I can talk to my parents, but everyone’s relationship with their parents is different,” said senior Susan Richner. “I’m sure if you just tried to talk to your parents they would be happy to listen.”
Senior Marc Van Enoo asked how many activities are really available for teens in this town.
“We get bored,” he said.
“The town does not really support things for teens. I’m in a band, and in the past four years we have only been able to play one gig … It’s good they got the skate park up, but in the winter there’s nothing to do,” he said.
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