January 28, 2013

POSTED BY Laura Rappaport
Saratoga Wire

What do parents know about their kids’ drug and alcohol habits? That’s a question the Saratoga Partnership for Prevention asks every two years.

The Partnership is asking parents of kids in grades 7-12 in the Saratoga Springs City School District to take a brief online survey about adolescent alcohol, tobacco, and other drug use by going to Survey Monkey. The process is completely anonymous and takes less than 15 minutes.

The parent questionnaire is the companion survey to the Youth Prevention Needs Assessment given every other fall to all Saratoga Springs 7th – 12th graders. It’s designed to track the attitudes and perceptions of a random sample of Saratoga Springs parents, says Robin Ambrosino, marketing and communications manager for the Prevention Council, which houses the partnership.

It’s also a way to gauge the similarities and differences between parents’ perceptions of teen behavior and the behavior teens actually report. Results of both surveys will be publicized in April.

“We want to find out if parents think their kids are engaging in the behaviors that kids say they are,” Ambrosino says. “What we’ve found over the years is that parents underestimated by a pretty large margin the behaviors kids are participating in,” she says. What it comes down to is that many parents think their high school kids are not drinking beer or smoking pot, but kids report they are doing those risky – and illegal – things.

The good news, however, is that drinking is down at Saratoga Springs High School. Ambrosino says that in 2008, drinking by SSHS seniors was well above the national average, but it’s been coming down over the past few years.

Sixth graders are no longer surveyed because in the past their answers showed such a low rate of drug and alcohol use.

She notes that while there is a big spike in drinking and drug use when kids enter ninth grade, that jump isn’t actually as big as it’s reputed to be.

Thus, she says, one goal of the Partnership for Prevention is to help the community change perceptions and the culture at the high school. So, while kids think it’s cool to drink in high school, the community needs to show them it’s not – and kids need to be aware that just because they’ve started high school doesn’t mean that everyone’s experimenting with alcohol.

“Fewer kids drink than they think,” Ambrosino says.

She said while some kids inflate their usages rates, the surveys have built-in checks and balances that help weed out questionnaires that have inconsistent responses.

In order to have a representative adult sample, 350 parents need to complete the 23 questions on the online form. Parents’ answers will be used to help the Partnership plan parenting programs, community events that send consistent messages about underage substance use, and ways to support families as their children progress through the teen years, Ambrosino says.

The Saratoga Partnership for Prevention is a program of the Prevention Council. It is made up of youth, parents, and individuals representing key sectors and organizations concerned about youth in the Saratoga Springs school district.

The survey continues through mid-February.