BALTIMORE – Maryland students drink, smoke and use drugs less than their counterparts did two years ago according to the 2004 Maryland Adolescent Survey released Wednesday.
First lady Kendel S. Ehrlich told the state board of education that parents can help this trend continue by staying involved in their kids’ lives.
“You’re not supposed to be your kid’s friend,” Ehrlich said. “You’re supposed to be your kid’s parent. They need you as an excuse” to get out of doing what their friends may be pressuring them to do.
The survey, released at the board’s October meeting to a standing-room only crowd, was conducted by the state’s Department of Education, Department of Transportation and Department of Mental Health and Hygiene.
More than 34,000 sixth-, eighth-, 10th- and 12th-graders throughout the state anonymously answered questions about their alcohol, tobacco and drug use.
The results weren’t all rosy, however. There were slight increases in the use of certain types of drugs among the younger students surveyed.
The use of inhalants and alcohol was up among sixth-graders since the last survey in 2002.
Also, Maryland sophomores and seniors were more likely to have smoked marijuana than cigarettes, according to the survey. But more students have tried alcohol than have tried smoking.
The study found cigarette smoking often begins at a young age. One-third of the seniors who smoke said they started before they were 12.
Ehrlich spoke at the board meeting because of her involvement with the Teen Advisory Council of Maryland, a group of high schoolers that meets throughout the year to discuss issues such as drug and alcohol use.
She said she was at first alarmed to find out the survey included sixth-graders, whom she initially thought were too young to be using drugs, drinking or smoking.
But she said she has learned that some young students are involved in such behavior.
“We need to get parents aware and talk to kids as young as possible” about the negative effects of drugs, drinking and smoking, Ehrlich said.
The survey found students are less likely to drink, smoke or use drugs if they have a strong family life and adults who worry about their whereabouts.
Ehrlich educated the board members about the meaning of the popular phrase “420,” pronounced “four twenty,” a drug culture term signifying the ideal time to smoke marijuana.
“It’s the time you can start smoking pot if you’re home alone, and people around the world will be smoking with you,” Ehrlich said.
She said it’s important for children to not be left home alone in the hours of 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. because that is when they would experiment with drugs and alcohol.
“Sex too,” Ehrlich said, her voice rising. “God forbid we talk about that!”
Student board member Joshua Michael, a senior at Centennial High School, agreed with Ehrlich that students should have more supervision in the afternoons, saying that could be a reason to make school start later.
He said school buildings should be open later in the afternoons and more activities for teens should be available through the schools, particularly middle schools.
The Maryland Adolescent Survey is modeled after the National Institute on Drug Abuse’s Monitoring the Future survey. The results can be compared for all but sixth-graders, who aren’t surveyed nationally.
Maryland high school seniors use marijuana at a slightly higher rate than seniors nationally, according to a comparison of the surveys.
More than 40 percent of 12th-graders in Maryland have tried marijuana, and nearly 70 percent have drunk alcohol.
A member of the Teen Advisory Council, Michael said he was interested that the study shows drug use follows money. In affluent areas such as Howard County where Michael lives, “there’s a lot of use of alcohol and drugs because of the availability. The money factor,” he said.