Our View: When It Comes To Risky Youth Behaviors, Parents Set The Tone

Opinion

This week Monomoy Regional High School administrators revealed the results of the latest Youth Risk Behavior Survey, which aims to spotlight the potentially dangerous activities students are engaging in, as well as how they view their mental health.

The 2019 survey results were alarming. Of the 522 students included in the final sample, 148 reported experiencing depression in the past year, with 18 attempting suicide. Students use of e-cigarettes or vape products is higher than state and national averages, and a frightening percentage of students, particularly young women, engage in binge drinking on a regular basis, perhaps as a means of numbing the psychological impact of unwanted sexual contact, which the survey showed affected a number of young women. A shocking number of students also use inhalants, and more than 60 percent of those surveyed admitted to regularly texting while driving.

But among all of the sobering statistics was one crystal clear nugget of truth: Parent messaging matters.

If students receive positively reinforced messages that certain behaviors – such as vaping, smoking, underage drinking, texting while driving, and using illicit drugs – are wrong, they are far less likely to engage in those behaviors. If students feel they have a parent or adult family member they can confide in, they are far less likely to experience depression and thoughts of suicide. If parents talk frankly with their children about sexual activity, particularly with regard to consent, students have a much better understanding and awareness about the potential consequences of their actions.

And yet, at a public forum at MRHS at which the survey results were presented, the attendance was nothing short of paltry. Only about 50 people, mostly parents, showed up.

Considering the survey pool of more than 500 people, a crowd of 50 is a pretty lopsided ratio, and it speaks volumes about the number of students engaging in risky behaviors.

With a good deal of buzz about the survey not being “legit,” and that students treat it casually, it's unsurprising that the turnout at the Oct. 7 reveal of results was low. But for those who showed up, it was a powerful evening, one that emphasized the immense need for parents, caregivers, community members, and those who care about the well being of our students to take an active role in their lives. Why? Because they are our students, even if they're not personally our children. They are part of our community, part of our school district, part of what makes where we live and each of our schools unique.

The common excuse about being “too busy” no longer holds water, especially not when more than 600 lives are at stake (the population at MRHS is somewhere around 620). Imagine each of the 148 students admitting to experiencing depression being told that someone was too busy to help. Imagine the consequences. Imagine what the impact would be on this community if even one of the 18 students admitting to attempting suicide had not survived.

It's easy to be dismissive about numbers. They're only statistics, after all. Except, they're not. Behind each number on that survey is a student, and every one of them deserves better.