October 11, 2006

Local Teens Crying Out For Help

Contrary to popular belief, teenagers do want to spend time with their parents. And parents who don't spend quality time each week doing fun things with their children could be putting them at risk.

Results of the Teen Assessment Project Report 2006, released at a special meeting of the Southampton Town Board last Wednesday at the Southampton Cultural Center, revealed eye-openers for parents: For example, as recently reported in The Independent, there has been an increase in binge drinking, with 43% of students reported to have engaged in binge drinking in the last 30 days. Binge drinking is defined as having five or more drinks in a two to three hour period.

There is good news – 55% of students reported having at least one alcoholic drink in their lifetimes, down from 64% in a 2002 Southampton TAP survey. In addition, local usage of illicit drugs, with the exception of marijuana, is much lower than the national average. Use of tobacco, with 21% of students reportedly smoking, is also lower than the national average.

But there is disturbing news, too: 37% of students reported feeling depressed at least once during the six months before the survey. And 15% of students reported that they had considered suicide, with seven percent having a plan of how they would end their lives. Students answered a question regarding a newly emerging topic of concern amongst young people, self-injurious behavior, with 15% saying they had performed such an act at least once within the past year.

The TAP survey was sponsored by the Town of Southampton Youth Bureau with technical assistance provided by Cornell Cooperative Extension of Suffolk County's 4-H youth development program. The survey was conducted in November of 2005, surveying 2,275 students in the eighth, 10th and 12th grades in Southampton. "This is a picture of what's going on with our young people," said Nancy Lynott, director of the Southampton Town Youth Bureau.

Lynott reminded this was the second in a three-part administration of the survey; no findings can be determined until all three assessments are complete.

But with the partial results in hand, last week members of the town board met with Lynott and representatives of the town youth bureau, as well as concerned parents and students, in an effort to find answers for the top problems troubling today's youth.

Communication is key towards tackling the issues, said Lynott, discussing how better to disseminate information and get the message out to parents. Suggestions included posting survey results on the town's website or a townwide mailing.

Perhaps the most poignant pleas were heard from students. Westhampton Beach High School students Mara D'Alessio and Liz Franzone joined Southampton High School students Hernan Cordoba and Diana Carter in discussing the issues pertinent to teens today.

D'Alessio bemoaned the dearth of recreational activities in town since the bowling alley in Westhampton Beach closed its doors in June. "Now, there's just a movie theater, and it's a small one."

Franzone said she knows students sent home from college for binge drinking.

Crucial, said Lynott, is reminding parents that underage drinking is not only illegal, but dangerous, and shouldn't be condoned at home.

"Parents need to get involved," said D'Alessio.

Carter said the area would benefit from a franchise-type laser tag or sports entertainment complex despite reservations of local residents.

And Cordoba said there needs to be a focus on the arts for area teens, with a space for performances such as the stage at the Southampton Cultural Center.

Councilman Steve Kenny said the town should augment school facilities, and mentioned a new recreation center proposed for Westhampton. While there are plenty of activities in the summer, he said, there needs to be more winter recreational opportunities.

Councilwoman Linda Kabot noted information sharing is critical. "Here we are, living in the lap of luxury, and there's nothing for kids to do."

To that end, Kabot said it was in the town's power to change zoning to allow for some sort of recreational laser tag or sports facility. In addition, Kabot reminded that in years past, it was suggested the Southampton Cultural Center be used by kids; the idea was shot down seven years ago by village residents resistant to young people at the arts facility.

Perhaps most important, said Stony Brook student intern Karen Hurst, who facilitated the survey, is that 51% of students who reportedly never used alcohol spent more than two hours with their families each week. "Kids actually want to spend time with their parents."

The first step toward finding answers is getting everyone to work together in a united effort toward change, emphasized Lynott. "We need to look to the larger community."

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