Novel initiative

Today’s youths can encounter contrasting messages about drugs and alcohol. On one side is the media’s willingness to glorify such substances. Characters on shows like “Weeds” and “Breaking Bad” produce and sell drugs as central to the plot. Some mainstream music artists sing or rap about their admiration for alcohol, marijuana and narcotics. Not all youths understand the difference between exaggerated art and real life, and may mistake these programs and lyrics as something worth imitating.

Competing with these media influences are school and community initiatives, such as DARE, that instruct against poor decision-making. These programs help students learn about restraint, self-respect, the serious consequences of risky behavior and the potency of peer pressure.

The influences of pop culture can lead youths to err. And pressure from peers to experiment with illegal substances is compounded by those TV shows and song lyrics that depict drugs and drinking nonchalantly, or even in a positive light.

So how do adults cut through all this conflicting noise and reach kids with vital information? It is essential that students know that their still-developing minds can be negatively affected for a lifetime by drinking or drug abuse.

Meriden’s Health and Human Services Department has approached the issue with an innovative strategy. Founded in October through a Workforce Alliance Inc. grant, a new group, the Youth Participatory Action Research Team, is composed of high-school juniors and seniors. The students get together twice per week, for three hours, to discuss issues facing their hometown, including drugs and alcohol. Participants also convene with local and state politicians to share findings and suggest plans of action.

“This way, instead of someone who’s on the outside telling you, ‘This is what’s wrong and this is what you need to do about it,’ you have people who are really experiencing these issues doing real-life research to solve them,” explained Meriden HHSD Director Lisa Pippa, who also oversees the group.

The research team is ideally suited to produce constructive proposals based on firsthand knowledge of problems facing Meriden youths. For instance, they would better understand how, and where, local kids can so easily access drugs and alcohol. It would also make sense that fellow students may naturally relate to the high school group’s messages about avoiding dangerous substances.

We encourage others in Meriden to become involved with this program, a novel initiative that nearby education districts should consider replicating.



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