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Changing parents' attitudes on booze and drugs a priority

Drinking and drug use amongst youth decreases, but still above 'the norm' in Whistler



More than 60 per cent of Grade 11 students in Whistler reported binge drinking this year, according to a just-released study.

While that percentage has decreased in recent years, it is still above "the norm," as defined by survey results from a database of 460,000 U.S. students.

Likewise, the use of alcohol by Whistler students is also "markedly higher" than the norm, and marijuana use is "somewhat above" the norm. Binge drinking is defined as having five or more alcoholic drinks on any one occasion in the past two weeks.

The results have sparked a series of recommendations or "community priorities," aimed at changing the picture in Whistler, and chief among those priorities is changing parental attitudes that are favourable to alcohol, tobacco and other drug use and antisocial behaviour.

"I have concerns," said acting mayor Andrée Janyk after Tuesday's Committee of the Whole meeting in which the results of the Whistler Community Assessment Report, prepared by Communities That Care Whistler, was presented.

"I appreciate the fact that the data is being collected so we can now act appropriately. Some of the information is not new, having been involved with the schools for many years as a school trustee and as a parent, and I think the main action that I found interesting is how we need to educate the parents to keep them engaged with their children as they go into high school."

But while there was concern, there were also signs that things are moving in the right direction, too — the numbers for drug and alcohol use are down from the first two surveys in 2003 and 2006, whose results "shocked the community," said Cathy Jewett, the community outreach lead on the project.

"We don't want people (parents and students) to think this is all about finding out what's wrong," she said. "It's also about what's right."

For example, the so-called Protective Factors, things that buffer youth such as family attachment, family opportunity and school opportunity, scored very high in the report — higher than the 2006 results and, in most cases, higher than the norm.

The Communities That Care report, which was compiled after a voluntary student survey in October 2013, offers insight into the behaviours and risk factors that are most prevalent in Whistler's youth.

The report clearly shows how quickly the results change from Grade 9 to Grade 10. In Grade 9, 19.4 per cent of respondents reported using alcohol; that percentage jumped to 61.7 per cent in Grade 10.

There is a similar jump in marijuana use — 5.6 per cent reported use in Grade 9 and 36.2 per cent in Grade 10.

"It's a very crucial time — a time when we really need to have our hands on the steering wheel as parents," said Jewett.

And yet, that's when parent participation begins to wane.

"The participation by parents drops off in high school big time... It's right when kids need them the most," she added.

According to students, more than half of families in Whistler do not have clear rules regarding alcohol use, and more than one-third have no clear rules regarding drug use. Parents may think they have rules in place; their kids' perception may be otherwise.

"We are at the point where we're figuring out where we have to go," Jewett told council.

To begin, the following risk factors were identified as community priorities for attention:

• parental attitudes favourable toward alcohol, tobacco and other drug use, particularly for students in Grades 8-12;

• parental attitudes favourable toward antisocial behaviour, especially for Grades 9-12;

• peer rewards for antisocial behaviour, particularly for Grades 9-12; and

• low perceived risk of drug use.

The report stated: "These risk factors were selected as priorities for prevention action primarily because data indicated that they are significantly elevated in Whistler."

Councillor Jayson Faulkner questioned why there was a delay of seven years from the 2006 report to the 2013 report.

"Well, it's volunteer driven," sighed Jewett, adding that it lost momentum.

The key now is to keep the momentum going, ensure funding is in place for future surveys. For example, Jewett said they would like to survey the 18-26 age group, which was surveyed in 2006, but not 2013, because of the sheer size of that population in Whistler and its influence on local students.

Municipal CAO Mike Furey, also at the meeting, said a lot of the things in the report and the directions moving forward, are not inconsistent with the municipality's priorities; he pointed to the municipally led family-friendly focus on the May long weekend.

"I think there's a lot of compatibility," said Furey, highlighting municipal general manager Norm McPhail as the Communities That Care Community Champion.

"We'll have a look at it and see what we can add."

Janyk said she would also like to see the Resort Municipality of Whistler show its support to Communities That Care, suggesting there could be a Youth Citizen of the Year award much like the Citizen of the Year award.

"I am very hopeful," she said. "I've seen in the school district we've moved from being at the provincial average to seven per cent above the provincial average with the number of kids that graduate. I think that kids are kids; youth is youth. We've got to be careful not to overact... So we want to make them a partner with the adult world... a better citizen... responsible for themselves, and their health, and their own destiny."

Another interesting factor in Whistler's report was the honesty rate — only 2.7 per cent of surveys were removed from the data set.

"Compared to the States, your 2.7 per cent dishonest rate is amazing," stated the report. "The best I have ever seen anywhere is in the high five per cent, and that was a religious private school."

The Communities That Care process was first adopted in Whistler in 2003 in response to concerns about risk-related behaviours associated with substance abuse in youth.

To read this report click here