Partnering with Parents to Encourage Healthy Choices

Posted by bhulsey - 31 March, 2011

Randolph’s mission emphasizes the partnership that we enjoy with parents. As we look toward prom this weekend and to the onset of summer vacation in just a couple of months, it seems appropriate to convey how important it is to support each other as we encourage our students’ healthy choices. This is a partnership where parents clearly have the lead and bear the burden of ultimate responsibility, but, as a school, we seek to provide support and resources to assist families for the benefit of all children in our care.

Sadly, too much in our wider culture exalts and encourages alcohol and drug use. At Randolph, we take seriously our responsibility to have and communicate clear school policies about underage use at school or at school-sponsored events. We care deeply about working with parents to support the best decisions our students make as they navigate the complicated terrain of adolescence in a confusing world.

Many times, a school has resources available which support parents in these roles, and Randolph’s partnership with FCD (Freedom from Chemical Dependency) Educational Services is an important part of our team.

I want to share with you data from FCD Educational Services and their Student Attitudes and Behavior Survey Executive Report, November 2009. FCD began its association with Randolph in 2006, as a partnership to support families in the area of substance abuse prevention. The first FCD Student Attitudes and Behavior Survey was administered to students in grades 6-12 that fall. Guided by the results of this survey, and in association with an FCD senior prevention specialist, our counseling department and administration forged a partnership with FCD that has included annual substance abuse prevention education programs for students, parents, teachers, and administrators.

The Results May Surprise You and Our Students
FCD utilizes a social norms model, based on research which shows that young people consistently and dramatically overestimate alcohol and other drug use by their peers and elders, while at the same time underestimating healthy behaviors practiced more routinely by their peers. FCD seeks to change these misperceptions, as research shows that such normative beliefs are a strong predictor of the level of actual alcohol and other drug use in a school community. The social norms approach, as applied to students, has two primary components: data collection (student surveys to reveal behaviors and attitudes) and utilization of data (demonstrating positive norms to reinforce positive behaviors and dispel myths that “everybody” is engaging in unhealthy activities).

It is not only important that students understand the normative behaviors, but that parents do as well, and that they work together to communicate their beliefs and guidelines regarding use with one another.

Data from 2006 and 2009
In the 2006 survey, results showed that alcohol use by 8th, 10th and 12th grade students (the groups with whom FCD educators work during their campus visits) was substantially below U.S. norms. Marijuana use and use of other substances by these same students, with the exception of smokeless tobacco, was substantially lower than U.S. norms. Instances of risky behavior were reported and concerns were noted, yet the results showed that there were far more students making healthy decisions. Based on these results, we have worked closely with FCD educators each year since 2006 to establish a prevention program designed at educating and encouraging students in healthy behaviors.

In the late fall of 2009, three years after the first survey, we elected to re-administer the FCD survey. A total of 404 students in our middle and upper schools participated. No survey, of course, is completely accurate, and in 2009 FCD was obliged to exclude 22 student responses because of results deemed to be clearly inconsistent or frivolous. Despite these marginal irregularities, it is clear that we continue to enjoy a relatively healthy school community.

In its November 2009 Executive Report, FCD noted, “the data suggests that with regard to alcohol and other drug use, the vast majority of Randolph students continue to hold positive beliefs, engage in responsible decision making, and exhibit healthy behaviors.” As expected, use in students increased as they get older, but remained, at all grade levels, substantially below U.S. norms for the three measures (lifetime, past 12- months, and past-30-days). For 8th and 12th grade students, levels of alcohol use were substantially lower than in 2006, across all three measures. For 10th grade students, alcohol use was on par with levels from 2006. Marijuana use in all three grades decreased from the 2006 measure, with 8th grade use at 0%, and use of other substances remained below U.S. norms.

Use and abuse on any level, of course, remains a concern for individual children, and no one should mistake relatively good results with a problem-free environment. One area that exceeded nationally reported levels of use and continues to vex us is the use of smokeless tobacco by 9th-11th grade males. Our ongoing efforts to reinforce the message of non-use of smokeless tobacco is having a positive effect, but we need to re-double our commitment to push back on a culture of use that at present exceeds national norms.

Parental Involvement and Supervision are Essential
The report also addresses the school climate, with a majority of the students in the 2009 survey reporting a tolerant environment for those who choose not to drink alcohol or use drugs. Randolph students have an appropriate awareness of the risks associated with use, yet they dramatically overestimate alcohol and marijuana use, and underestimate abstinence from use, on the part of their peers. The vast majority of our students agree with statements that suggest high levels of parental interest, involvement and supervision are important to support healthy choices.

While more than 80% of Randolph students reported having clear household rules about alcohol and other drugs, 17% of those who have used reported having done so at home (this number increases to over 20% by 10th grade). A large majority of students who do use report that they do so in a friend’s home, and many instances of “first use” are in the homes of friends. These occasions can include chaperoned parties before and after the prom, as well as over the course of the summer when parents may be out of town.

FCD educators will return to Randolph in the fall of 2011. We continue to work as a team of faculty, counselors, and administrators to provide this type of programming to support families in helping their children make healthy lifestyle choices.

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