Beth Tobe presents Pride Survey results - Putnam Sentinel
Beth Tobe, prevention coordination with Pathways, presents the results of the most recent Putnam County Pride Survey of adolescent behaviors to area educators, social workers, and law enforcement. (Putnam Sentinel/Martin Verni)

PUTNAM COUNTY — Talk to your kids regularly about the dangers of consuming drugs and alcohol if you want them to resist peer pressure and avoid potentially dangerous experimentation. That’s one of the takeaways of the recently concluded Putnam County Pride Survey of adolescent behavior. The results were released to the public in a presentation held this past Thursday at the Putnam County Educational Service Center.

“One and one-tenth of a percent of parents, ‘Never set a clear rule.’ ” emphasized PC Task Force for Youth member Nancy Kline when presenting a snapshot of the survey’s results. “Of those kids, over 40 percent will use an illicit drug. So, if you don’t talk to your kids, and thankfully it’s a very small percentage that never do, but of those kids that aren’t talked to, 40 percent of those kids will do illicit drugs.

“Now, look at [the results of] those whose parents talk to [their kids] ‘a lot.’” Only three and a half percent of those kids will do illicit drugs. Does that tell you that it’s pretty effective to talk to your kids? You’re always looking at, ‘What program works?’ Well, talking to your kids [works].”

First conducted around 1993, the Pride Survey is taken every two years by youth enrolled in sixth, eighth, tenth, and twelfth grades. All nine of the area’s local school districts participate. The results are compiled to provide an overview of all students in the county, and each school receives the survey results for their particular school as well. All surveys are completed anonymously.

In addition to asking about whether or not drugs and alcohol, and their dangers, are frequently discussed at home, the survey seeks answers on a variety of questions on drug and alcohol usage, threats of violence and bullying, suicidal thoughts, regular exercise, healthy eating habits, safe driving practices, and even the observed behaviors of the adults in their lives.

“One of the first things [the survey] asks is, ‘At what age did you start using these substances,’ ” says task force member Beth Tobe, referring to alcohol, illicit drugs, and prescription drugs. “Obviously, we want [the results] to be high. The higher the better. Because this is the average age in the county [when these substances are first used].”

“So, if we look at alcohol, our average age is 13.8 [years old]. That’s about the age that kids in our county start drinking. That actually went down, which is not the way we want it to go.”

“In 2015, which was the last time we did the survey, kids were waiting until they were 14.2 to begin drinking. So, it just went down a little bit, but that’s definitely not the direction we want it to go. Hopefully, with some programs and things that we have going on in the county, we can get that number back up to over age 14.”

As Tobe went on to explain, marijuana use, by comparison, tends to happen roughly one year later, at age 14.4 for Putnam County Youth. That’s down slightly from age 14.7 in the 2015 survey. Again, not the direction task force members hope to see, but the difference is minimal. In terms of the ‘gateway drug’ theory, it would also seem that alcohol may be more of a first step towards additional experimentation than marijuana.

Like nearly all illicit and prescription drugs surveyed, the marijuana usage rate by adolescents in the county is below the national average, whether measuring the age first tried, monthly usage, or annual usage. Of the illicit and prescribed drugs asked about in the survey, only the monthly usage of steroids by area high school seniors was reportedly higher than the national average.

With alcohol, unfortunately, this is not the case. “The question on the survey,” says Tobe, “Is, ‘Have you used alcohol in the last year.’ So, it’s just asking them, ‘At anytime this year, did you use?’ So, these numbers are going to be a little bit higher than the monthly ones.”

“We’re above national average in every grade in alcohol,” she continued. “I will say, being above national average in sixth and eighth grade drinking, that’s concerning for us on the task force.”

When it comes to the monthly drinking of alcohol, sixth and eighth graders are below the national average by less than two percentage points for each. Area tenth graders are equal to the national average. And, high school seniors in Putnam County are above the national average in monthly drinking by nearly three and a half percentage points. As Tobe alluded, these number are better than the yearly results, but the trend line is not, from the view of task force members, heading in the right direction.

One bright spot, however, is the perception of adolescent alcohol use by parents. 92.5 percent of sixth graders indicated that their parents would consider any alcohol use by them to be ‘wrong’ or ‘very wrong.’ The same was true of 95.6 percent of eighth graders, 91 percent of sophomores, and 81 percent of high school seniors.

‘Knowing’ their parents disapprove is not, however, quite enough. As emphasized by Kline, parents actively and regularly discussing their concerns with their children seems key (see the associated article: Let’s Talk).

The Putnam County Task Force for Youth is seeking new members. Area adults interested in joining the task force are asked to call Beth Tobe at the PC Educational Service Center: 419-523-5951.