Pubdate: Thu, 18 Jan 2007
Source: Pique Newsmagazine (CN BC)
Copyright: 2007 Pique Publishing Inc.
Author: Clare Ogilvie


Some Whistler parents want to sound an alarm bell over the use of 
drugs and alcohol by the community's youth.

" So many in this town for so long have got the blinders on and they 
think that it is not happening here," said one mom who doesn't want 
her name used to protect the identity of her child.

"But there are parties every weekend. Kids are staying out all night 
and many parents don't even know whom their kids are supposed to be 
staying with. It's time for us to wake up.

"I believe these kids need our help and guidance, our patience and a 
lot more supervision and not our judgment."

According to the most recent Whistler statistics on youth, drugs, sex 
and alcohol, there is nothing to suggest that the community's youth 
are any different from other kids in B.C. or across Canada. (See sidebar).

But for some parents the numbers just aren't that important. It's as 
if the town has reached a tipping point and as a community people are 
unprepared to put up with this behaviour.

Bev Oakley, principal of Whistler Secondary, believes she is 
witnessing that change first hand.

"I think from a health and safety standpoint the attitude of the 
community toward drug use by youth has changed quite a lot, just as 
we have seen a change in attitude toward wearing seat belts or 
helmets," said Oakley. "There used to be a blind eye turned to 
drinking and marijuana use, but with more information about the 
profound health effects that these substances are having on our youth 
this attitude is changing."

The drugs on offer today, including marijuana, are far more powerful 
than they were 20 or so years ago and tend to be laced with a variety 
of other substances that can be dangerous or highly addictive. Some 
of the latest statistics indicate that as much as 25 per cent of the 
ecstasy available for sale is now laced with methamphetamine, a 
highly addictive stimulant.

"I think that message is slowly getting out there that this 
represents a significant danger to our youth," said Oakley.

"The community as a whole seems to be evolving to a point of lower 
tolerance of teen drug use as parents become more educated about the 
dangers of the drugs available today."

Parental fear regarding the possible consequences to their children 
is very real. Indeed there was even a suggestion by some parents at a 
PAC meeting in 2005 to bring sniffer dogs in as a deterrent to 
bringing drugs onto school property.  (The majority of parents, 
however, did not support the idea.)

At a recent meeting parents also heard the results of a questionnaire 
done at the school by an outside organization. It showed that 108 out 
of 200 students that answered the questionnaire indicated that they 
would like to see drugs removed from the school entirely.

"That is significant," said Oakley, adding that deep school pride lay 
at the heart of the response.

"A significant number of our students, over half, don't want drugs in 
the school. That is something we can really work with. Students are 
feeling they don't want drugs at the school, and the administration, 
the district, the RCMP, everybody is on board with that."

Oakley said there is a zero tolerance policy toward drug and alcohol 
use on school grounds and during school hours. Schools are meant to 
be drug-free zones and anyone found in possession or under the 
influence of drugs or alcohol will be suspended by the school board. 
All students receive information in both Grade 8 and Grade 10 on the 
dangers inherent with drug and alcohol use to help them make good 
decisions. There is also a drug and alcohol counsellor at the school 
for students to access if they have questions or concerns, and 
parents are always involved where appropriate.

"We firmly believe that the parents and the school are partners and 
we want to make sure we are sharing information for the safety and 
health of the students; their children," said Oakley.

Marilyn Crichton, chair of the high school PAC, declined to comment 
on the issue since it has not been raised at a meeting.

"The issue hasn't come before the PAC and there is always going to be 
societal issues and our high school does provide planning and courses 
and speakers on drug use, drug abuse and on prevention."

Oakley and the RCMP want youth and adults alike to alert them to any 
concerns about drug and alcohol use, and any information shared can 
be on an anonymous basis.

"There are a lot of people who think we know things, but we might 
not," said RCMP Cpl. Jeff Levine.

"If we know someone is dealing drugs in the school we are just not 
going to let that go, absolutely not. We are definitely going to 
follow that up. Within this detachment youth is a priority.

"So if parents or students would like to provide information to the 
police they can go through Crimestoppers (1-800-222-TIPS ), it is 
anonymous, or talk to one of us."

Levine said it is very rare for the police to be called out to deal 
with youth abusing drugs and alcohol in the community. He said police 
are working hard to form relationships with youth so that if they are 
in trouble or need advice they are comfortable calling for help.

" Our job is not just to catch (youth) for the crime. In fact we 
would much sooner prevent the crime and prevent some of the kids from 
going down the path of drug and alcohol dependencies. If we can do 
that and make sure these kids develop into good members of the 
community that is the goal."

Growing up in a resort can offer many mixed messages to local youth 
since the world is invited to party here and sometimes drinking to 
excess is part of the experience.

"It is a balancing act," said Whistler Councillor Ralph Forsyth, who 
is also chair of the public relations and outreach committee for 
Whistler for Youth.

"We are not Las Vegas and we are not inviting people here to indulge 
their vices, and it goes from the escort services to the drug use in 
school. We might be in jeopardy of crossing the line and that might 
be the feeling in the community. So we need to reassert what our 
values are. We are inviting people here for a healthy active 
lifestyle... We want you to come here and have the time of your life 
and if that involves having a few drinks fine, and people will find 
their limit on that, but when it crosses the line then that is when 
we have to say enough is enough."

That's important, said Forsyth, because Whistler's youth often view 
the young adults who come here as cool and if drinking and drug use 
falls into being cool then some kids may copy them.

WFY has adopted two main strategies to deal with the concerns around 
drugs and alcohol: Stay On Track and the Second Step Parenting 
Program. (To find out more about when the next Second Step program 
will run go to

Stay On Track is a public awareness program designed to support 
healthy development of children and youth and the Second Step Program 
is designed to give parents new tools to deal with their kids.

Forsyth believes one of the most powerful ways to deal with drug and 
alcohol abuse in youth is for every community member to take a stand on values.

"It is when each and every one of us says we have had enough," he said.

And Forsyth believes parents need to get involved with their kids in 
sport, at school, and at home.

"Kids who eat dinner five times a week with family are 10 times less 
likely to get involved with drugs and alcohol," he said.

That advice is echoed by Greg McDonnell, youth outreach worker 
supervisor for Whistler Community Services Society.

"I think what is really important is that parents have to increase 
communication with their kids and take accountability," he said, 
adding that families should start the pattern for communication in 
elementary school.

"I think a lot of parents are being very naive and oblivious to the 
behaviour and people are quickly casting the blame on the kids, and I 
think parents need to take some more accountability for their kids."

Sometimes, said McDonnell, the lack of communication is a result of 
fear on the part of parents about who their teens are.

"I know it can be a little alien sometimes and (youths) can be viewed 
as little aliens and parents may want to push them away, but you 
can't do it," he said.

"You've got to wrap them in and tell them you love them and hug them 
and accept them, accept the weird music they listen to, accept that 
it is natural to want to post a blog."

McDonnell encourages parents to view today's youth with curiosity 
rather than judging them. He would like parents to ask lots of 
questions and learn about what their kids are up to and what they 
like and don't like.

"That will open the potential for positives rather than perpetuating 
all the negatives that adults see in kids these days," he said.

And parents should be connecting with the parents of their kid's 
friends. That connectivity sends a strong message to youth that their 
community cares about them and is interested in knowing where they 
are and what they are doing.

"We do seem to be in this place where there is a real reality check 
in our generation," said McDonnell.

"There does seem to be a tipping point of behaviours for the new 
generation that we are having a very difficult time comprehending the 
realities of."

Survey results suggest strong community

The survey of Whistler youth done in May and June of 2004 was carried 
out by the Communities That Care project, an evidence-based program 
developed in the U.S. to help communities build positive, healthy 
futures for their youth.

It revealed that over two-thirds of the youths from Grade 6 to Grade 
12 have used alcohol in their lifetime.

Almost half reported drinking in the 30 days prior to the May 2004 
survey date and almost a quarter reported smoking dope in the same period.

The survey also found that 59 per cent of youths in Grade 11 had come 
to school drunk or high at least once in the previous year. Overall 
24.8 per cent of surveyed students from Whistler had done the same thing.

The survey also found a significant increase in drug and alcohol use 
from the lower grades to Grade 9.

In Grade 6, 10.2 per cent of youths said they had used alcohol in the 
previous month to the survey. In Grade 9 that number jumped to 43.2 
per cent. In Grade 11 it went up to 84.2 per cent and then fell to 
82.1 per cent in Grade 12.

Marijuana use jumped to 15.9 per cent for use in the previous month 
in Grade 9 from 3.4 per cent use in Grade 8. Its use peaked in Grade 
11 at 51.3 per cent.

The survey also found students felt there was a high community 
connection and strong family connections. There was also low use of 
club drugs, virtually no violence, and no reflection of antisocial 
behaviour like vehicle thefts. These indicators are generally 
considered highlights of a very strong community.

Whistler For Youth carried out another survey in the spring of 2006, 
but the results have not been released to the public. However, WFY 
board member Don Brett said the new survey shows little change.

In 2003 The McCreary Centre Society carried out a survey in 1,500 
Grade 7 to 12 classrooms in B.C. and found that at age 17 about 78 
per cent of youths had tried alcohol. Of those who had tried alcohol 
about 46 per cent of boys and 43 per cent of girls had done some 
binge drinking in the previous month. Marijuana use was about 37 per 
cent. In 1992 the Centre found that only about 25 per cent of youths 
reported using dope.
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