Teens Choosing Religion, Early Drug Use, Survey Says

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The 2006 Arizona Youth Survey, conducted and released by the Arizona Criminal Justice System, indicates that early initiation of drug use among Arizona youth has risen in the last year.

According to the survey, early initiation of drug use among Gila County (including Payson Unified School District) youth rose from approximately 37 percent in 2004, to nearly 50 percent in 2006.

However, the same survey indicates that youth are also turning to religion in numbers higher than previous years and, though students were trying drugs earlier and earlier, it seemed to be something of a phase. Because drug use among high school seniors was down from previous years.

The survey used 19 different risk factors originating with community, family, school and individual/peer influences on youth to help identify areas of possible behavior problems.

Closely associated with early initiation and continued use of drugs among youth, according to the survey, were the media, extreme economic and social deprivation, family history of problem behavior, family management problems, academic failure in elementary school, lack of commitment to school, alienation and rebelliousness, gang involvement and friends who engage in problem behavior.

A copy of the Arizona Department of Education report card for Payson High School offers some advice to help parents create an atmosphere better suited to positive academic achievement and social behavior.

The report suggests parents provide a suitable, quiet location in the home to do homework, as well as close monitoring of the homework and student. This should be combined with the development of a workable and acceptable schedule with a child, which also allows free time.

Parents need to show support for school by stressing the value of student responsibility and accountability for actions.

Much of the survey was based on "The Risk and Protective Factor Model of Prevention," developed by Dr. J. David Hawkins, Dr. Richard F. Catalano and their colleagues at the University of Washington.

The model/program works on the theory that if specific, identified risk factors can be prevented from initially developing among youth, then subsequent behavior and educational problems can be avoided.

In other words, the program uses the same kind of theory used in automobile maintenance.

If a student's behavior and academic habits/characteristics are monitored and maintained in much the same way as oil and other vital components of an automobile are maintained, then the integrity of the student is kept in good health, just as an automobile engine is maintained in good mechanical order.

This kind of monitoring, combined with positive reinforcement for positive behavior and academic achievement, are what the survey calls "Protective Factors."

Protective factors help maintain a positive attitude towards society, family and school by lessening the impact negative factors could potentially have on an individual.

Payson Unified School District Superintendent Casey O'Brien said the district is proactive in its development and use of programs designed to promote positive social and academic behavior and habits.

He said, "One of the programs we had last year was called Champs Camp.

"Every fifth-grader was teamed up with a high school student who functioned as a peer mediator to help deal with issues like conflict resolution and peer influences as preventative measures."

O'Brien added, "Sometimes (the fifth-grade students) even entered into signing a contract with their peer mediator, agreeing to be held responsible in some way for inappropriate behavior or actions."

O'Brien said the mediators are trained in peer mentoring, but that if a problem goes beyond their ability or if it is an issue of abuse, the mediators are instructed to turn the matter over to school administration for possible action or referral.

Ethnicities involved in the Gila County survey included African American, American Indian, Asian, Hispanic, Pacific Islander, white and "other."

A total of 831 students in Gila County, and 60,401 students in all 15 counties statewide were interviewed for the criminal justice commission survey.

For more information on the youth survey, visit http://azcjc.gov/sac/ays.asp.

For information on programs offered by Payson Unified School District, call (928) 474-2070.

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