Survey cites alcohol, cheating, bullying among Westport teens

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Alcohol consumption among Westport teenagers is above regional and national averages, according to a new survey on illegal and risky behavior among local youth.
Alcohol consumption among Westport teenagers is above regional and national averages, according to a new survey on illegal and risky behavior among local youth.File Photo

Alcohol ranks as the most common substance-abuse problem among Westport high schoolers, with teens drinking at rates above the regional and national averages, according to a new study.

Almost 40 percent of Westport 10th graders reported using alcohol in the 30 days prior to the survey last April. In comparison, a 2010 survey conducted by the University of Michigan's Institute for Social Research and state data from several other Connecticut school districts showed alcohol usage rates of approximately 30 percent for 10th graders.

That disparity is even more pronounced for Westport 11th graders, with approximately 60 percent of Staples pupils reporting alcohol use during the 30 days before the April survey, compared to a nationwide rate of about 35 percent reported in the University of Michigan study.

The survey also found high rates of academic cheating and bullying among students at Staples High School.

Those numbers comprise part of the state Governor's Prevention Initiative for Youth survey, which was administered online last April to approximately 1,000 Westport public school students in grades 7 to 11 under the supervision of local school officials and the nonprofit group Positive Directions. Approximately 50 percent of students in those grades at Coleytown Middle School, Bedford Middle School and Staples High School took part in the survey, with an equal number of female and male participants.

The survey polled students on their behavior and attitudes related to the use of alcohol, tobacco, illicit drugs and other substances. After alcohol, marijuana and cigarettes ranked as the second and third most-abused substances.

Almost 40 percent of Staples 11th graders, for instance, reported using marijuana during the 30 days prior to the survey, while about 10 percent of students in that grade indicated recent cigarette use.

Use of illicit substances among Westport teenagers has nonetheless dropped substantially since 2000, the last time the GPIY survey was administered to local teens, according to a report on the survey prepared by Archie Swindell of the statistical consulting and analysis firm, Quantitative Services.

More Information
WESTPORT TEEN SURVEY The 2011 Governor's Prevention Initiative for Youth survey polled approximately 1,000 Westport students in grades 7 to 11 on substance abuse and other social issues. Alcohol and marijuana use, as well as academic cheating, are common problems among Westport youth, according to the survey. In contrast, cigarette use is far less prevalent. PERCENTAGE OF STUDENTS WHO REPORTED USING ALCOHOL DURING LAST 30 DAYS PRIOR TO TAKING THE APRIL SURVEY: Grade 7: 4 percent Grade 8: 8 percent Grade 9: 25 percent Grade 10: 37 percent Grade 11: 60 percent PERCENTAGE OF STUDENTS WHO REPORTING USING MARIJUANA Grade 7: 1 percent Grade 8: 1 percent Grade 9: 7 percent Grade 10: 17 percent Grade 11: 37 percent PERCENTAGE OF STUDENTS WHO REPORTED SMOKING CIGARETTES Grade 7: 0.5 percent Grade 8: 0.5 percent Grade 9: 2 percent Grade 10: 3 percent Grade 11: 11 percent PERCENTAGE OF STUDENTS WHO SAID THEY HAD CHEATED ON A TEST DURING THE PAST YEAR: Grade 7: 19 percent Grade 8: 24 percent Grade 9: 28 percent Grade 10: 48 percent Grade 11: 50 percent

During the last 11 years, Swindell said smoking among Westport students in grades 7 to 10 had dropped "by about 10-fold."

His report also found that alcohol and marijuana use among ninth and 10th graders had decreased respectively by 26 percentage points and 15 percentage points since 2000.

In contrast to local high school students, few middle schoolers polled in the survey reported alcohol, cigarette or marijuana use. Less than 10 percent of seventh and eighth graders reported alcohol use, while only about 1 percent of the younger teens said they had used marijuana during the 30 days prior to the survey.

Superintendent of Schools Elliott Landon was not available Tuesday to comment on the report. The Board of Education was scheduled to review the survey findings at its Tuesday night meeting.

On a temperate Columbus Day at Compo Beach, several Westport eighth-graders said the substance-abuse rate among their peers appears to mirror the survey's numbers.

"There are people who drink, but no one in our grade does drugs," said Hannah Simons, who attends Bedford Middle School.

Public drug use, however, is relatively frequent in downtown Westport, said James Banbury, who also attends Bedford Middle.

"We were hanging out downtown one night, and we were walking around, and there was this group of about five guys sitting on the dock, and they were all smoking pot," he said. "It's pretty common for us to see people in town doing that."

Neither Simons nor Banbury took the survey, although they said they were familiar with its content.

Simons expressed some skepticism about the effectiveness of her school's anti-substance abuse curriculum. "They just tell you what it is," she said, "but they didn't really tell you what the effects are."

Simons and Banbury, along with their friend Ian Offenberg, a Westport resident and Fairfield Country Day School student, also noted that alcohol is relatively easy to procure for many students their age.

The trio, nonetheless, expressed confidence that they would not be swayed by higher rates of substance abuse among fellow students when they move on to high school next year.

"I feel like if I was going to get influenced, it would have happened already," said Offenberg, who may attend Staples. "I don't think I'll have an issue with that."

Nodding his head, Banbury added: "I think we'll be smart about it, and not get involved in that stuff."

The GPIY survey also shows a sharp lifestyle divide among drinkers and non-drinkers. Students who had consumed alcohol during the last 30 days were less likely to discuss personal problems with parents or teachers; were more skeptical of measures aimed to discourage underage drinking, and expressed more permissive views of behavior such as stealing, cheating on tests and gambling. Alcohol users also spent more time hanging out with friends and talking on the phone and less time reading or using computers, according to the survey.

In addition to questions about illegal substance use, the survey also polled students about their behavior and perception of a variety of other social issues.

Bullying, which gained increased attention after a Bedford Middle School student posted a video on YouTube detailing her experience with the problem, was also reported by Staples students. About 40 percent of 10th and 11th graders said the statement "in my school, kids are often bullied" was "mostly true" or "definitely true."

Academic cheating, however, constituted the most widespread "anti-social" behavior in which students admitted engaging. Approximately 50 percent of 10th and 11th graders reported that they had cheated on a test during the last year.

Other common anti-social behaviors included buying illegal drugs -- reported by almost 30 percent of 11 graders -- and theft of items worth less than $100, which was reported by more than 20 percent of 10th graders and 11th graders.

WESTPORT TEEN SURVEY

The 2011 Governor's Prevention Initiative for Youth survey polled approximately 1,000 Westport students in grades 7 to 11 on substance abuse and other social issues. Alcohol and marijuana use, as well as academic cheating, are common problems among Westport youth, according to the survey. In contrast, cigarette use is far less prevalent.

PERCENTAGE OF STUDENTS WHO REPORTED USING ALCOHOL DURING LAST 30 DAYS PRIOR TO TAKING THE APRIL SURVEY:

Grade 7: 4 percent

Grade 8: 8 percent

Grade 9: 25 percent

Grade 10: 37 percent

Grade 11: 60 percent

PERCENTAGE OF STUDENTS WHO REPORTING USING MARIJUANA

Grade 7: 1 percent

Grade 8: 1 percent

Grade 9: 7 percent

Grade 10: 17 percent

Grade 11: 37 percent

PERCENTAGE OF STUDENTS WHO REPORTED SMOKING CIGARETTES

Grade 7: 0.5 percent

Grade 8: 0.5 percent

Grade 9: 2 percent

Grade 10: 3 percent

Grade 11: 11 percent

PERCENTAGE OF STUDENTS WHO SAID THEY HAD CHEATED ON A TEST DURING THE PAST YEAR:

Grade 7: 19 percent

Grade 8: 24 percent

Grade 9: 28 percent

Grade 10: 48 percent

Grade 11: 50 percent