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Decatur High students show “alarming rates” of risky behavior


Decatur High students show “alarming rates” of risky behavior

Decatur parents and community members listen during a forum at Decatur High to discuss teenage “risky behaviors.” File Photo by Mariann Martin

By Mariann Martin, contributor

Decatur High School seniors say they use alcohol at higher rates than students in DeKalb County, in Georgia and across the rest of the country.

In a self-reported survey, about 45 percent of 12th graders said they had at least one drink in the last 30 days, compared to 35 percent nationally and 21 percent across the state. Only 15 percent senior students in Dekalb County reported drinking in the last 30 days, according to the most recent Georgia Student Health Survey.

Nearly 300 community members and parents filled the Decatur High School Performing Arts Center Monday evening to discuss the recent numbers. While not specifically addressed Monday evening, several violent incidents involving high school students have also caused concern among parents.

Eric Tumperi, the high school PTA president, organized the meeting to propose a Decatur Parents Network aimed at addressing the issue. Superintendent Dr. David Dude, Deputy Police Chief Keith Lee and Jessica Andrews-Wilson, executive director at GUIDE, Inc. also spoke and fielded questions from concerned parents.

“We like to pretend it’s not my kids; it’s a scary thing to admit it could be my kid, “Andrews-Wilson, an adolescent risk behavior specialist, told parents. “There is something going on in Decatur. The Decatur High School rate of alcohol usage is significantly higher than in DeKalb County, Georgia and the national average.”

The Decatur numbers are not a sudden spike, but a continuing trend that has been increasing steadily for years, according to Andrews-Wilson and Terrie Moore, project director at the Decatur Prevention Initiative.

During the meeting, Tumperi outlined his plans for the Decatur Parents Network, which included gathering contact information from parents. He also distributed a pledge for parents to sign that included a promise to restrict alcohol access for teenagers and to supervise gatherings and parties.

The network will create a parent communications infrastructure through social media; provide information and resources; and create positive, supervised activities, Tumperi said. He hopes to have the network up and running by May, he said. He urged parents to join the group and to volunteer.

Andrews-Wilson praised the group for the extraordinary turnout, saying it was the largest number of parents she had ever seen in all her years of speaking across the state. But she also warned parents they had to address the problem by talking to their children, not allowing them to drink at home and being cautious about where they spend their time.

Fifty percent of the 45 percent of DHS 12th graders who reported using alcohol in the last 30 days reported drinking in a car or at a friend’s house, she noted. Nineteen percent also said they had, in the last 30 days, ridden in a car with a driver who was drinking.

“Our teens are engaging in risky behavior at a really alarming rate,” Andrews-Sullivan said. Risky behaviors are often connected, she said, which would explain why Decatur’s numbers are higher in many categories.

Dude noted that Decatur students are also vaping, using marijuana, and binge drinking at higher rates than the rest of the state.

Lee said the Decatur Police Department crime numbers do not necessarily reflect the survey numbers, since the police departments tries not to criminalize juvenile behavior. Instead, it works with parents and teenagers to address the problem.

However, Lee noted that the department was aware of various incidents and parties. Decatur teenagers even rented a house at one point, Lee noted, calling them quite “enterprising” in their behavior.

“It will take all of working together to change this,” Lee said.

Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly presented some of the data. The story has been updated with the correct information.