The Hartford Courant recently reported on a somewhat shocking teenage contrast. Picture a band of boys calling themselves "Society in Ruins" playing thrash-metal music so loudly it would make your ears bleed. But the teen rockers also have committed themselves to what's called the "Straight Edge" lifestyle of no drugs and no alcohol during high school. Courant writer Teresa Pelham reported the teenage rockers don't have a formal pact, "just an understanding that there will be no pressure, at least from each other, to drink or try drugs."
The term "Straight Edge" is inspired by the 1980s punk band Minor Threat, during a time when drug abuse marked punk-rock culture. "It's a very quiet, very personal movement in our school," explained Ed Manfredi, health and wellness director of the public schools in Farmington, Conn. "It's not like the kids who take abstinence pledges; who are usually very vocal about it. It's more of an attitude among friends."
This lifestyle is inspired by a program at Farmington High School called FOCUS (Focus on Communities Understanding Substance Abuse). The target is peer pressure, and a major part of that pressure is an assumption -- often fostered by teens and even pessimistic parents and media outlets -- that everyone's misbehaving. That perception, however, is wrong. An anonymous survey of 1,400 Farmington students in grades 8 to 12 found that "everyone" is not doing drugs or drinking alcohol.
Manfredi said 62 percent of ninth-graders surveyed said they never drink, but only seven percent of ninth-graders assumed abstinence on the part of their classmates. Thirty-three percent of 12th-graders drank once a week or more, but 77 percent of 12th-graders believed their classmates drink at that rate. He added: "Ultimately, unfortunately, perception catches up with reality. If kids think other kids are using, actual use will go up."
Pelham, the reporter on this story, remembered her own teenage years a few decades before in rural Connecticut, and wondered if her classmates also overestimated the drinking and drug use among their peers. She remembered the most notorious drinking binges of her peers, "but just as the media plays up the bad stuff, so does the teenage rumor mill."
FOCUS tries to discourage teen alcohol and drug use by having the oldest students speak to younger students about how a wild chemical lifestyle doesn't have to be part of the high school experience. "Knowing that I'm not the only one that wants to have a drug-free life makes it easier," said one of the punk rockers, recently turned 16.