Butte CARES, a community coalition, has been working tirelessly for the last 33 years to help prevent/reduce underage alcohol, tobacco and other drug use by our youth.
The science of prevention is simple: reduce risk factors and increase protective factors. So what are some of these risk and protective factors?
According to the 2010 study Understanding Teen Drinking Culture in American, conducted at George Mason University, youth may have either a framework for positive alcohol decisions (high protective factors and low risk factors) or a framework for negative alcohol decisions (low protective factors and high risk factors).
Youth with a high protective factors and low risk factors for positive alcohol, tobacco and other drugs decisions possess the following: Strong core values, such as feeling connected to past and future and have a sense of purpose. They possess internal factors such as family bonds; feeling loved and listened to, feeling capable (confidence), and are aware of areas of concern.
They knows where to turn for assistance, feel supported, have balance in life, and have good coping skills to deal with anxiety, stress, high expectations. Their friends provide support, and encourage behavior change as needed. Additionally, the have in place external factors such as spending time together with family.
In healthy families, youth have open conversation with parents, have meals with families, and see parents as partners and guides. Some additional protective factors include having positive role models, and are able to reflect on self. They possess a good sense of personal boundaries, feels affirmation, possess clear and reasonable expectations, and have skills to interact with others.
Allowing youth to engage in activities and clubs is healthy. Providing and environment where youth have opportunities to learn by doing, experimenting, making mistakes, and are encouraged to stretch and extend beyond comfort zone is positive.
Youth with a low protective factors and high risk factors for negative alcohol, tobacco and other drugs decisions possess the following: They have core factors such as stress, feeling pressure, and discouragement. They are also disenfranchised (alienated), feel lonely, seek their own identity (trying to “find themselves”), are insecure, and have a feelings of hopelessness.
Additionally, they lack coping skills, are usually bored (nothing to do), and are not comfortable being alone. They also lack goals, look for ways to escape social limits, and have a strong desire to experience things themselves. Most are not able to reflect on their thoughts and experiences (very impulsive).
These youth will do most anything to fit in and to be older. They are rebellious and have unrealistic expectations of what their life should be like. Youth in this setting lack knowledge and information; lack meaningful conversation with parents and lack role models. They are easily drawn to the allure of TV, songs, ads. They have no substantive, consistent legal consequences.
These kids are constantly being exposed to conflicting messages (adults drink), educational dishonesty, inadequacy, mistrust, and peer acceptance of these antisocial behaviors and believes that they see as acceptable by society.
Finally, these youth receive encouragement from peers’ to engage in risky and unhealthy behaviors (drinking, smoking, etc.). They also have easy of access to parties, alcohol, tobacco and other drugs.
Although parents are the most important individuals in kids’ lives and they are the gatekeepers for keeping kids safe, it takes the efforts of the all the caring adults in this great community to increase the protective factors and reduce the risk factors. Can you help? Check our website www.buttecares.org or call 406-560-2529.
Pat Prendergast is president of Butte Cares, 305 W. Mercury St., Butte