Over the past 20 years, Iceland has taken an unconventional approach to reducing drug teen abuse – not just giving kids alternatives to drug use but to prevent even starting in the first place. What have they done to dramatically reduce alcohol consumption, smoking and marijuana use in teens? The answer is a little more detailed.
An article published in MosaicScience.com describes how Iceland, finding that programs warning kids about the dangers of drugs and alcohol were largely ineffective, wanted a different approach. That approach was in the form of a national plan called Youth in Iceland. When framing the Youth in Iceland program researchers dug into data from questionnaires they administered to youth, “Their analysis revealed clear differences between the lives of kids who took up drinking, smoking and other drugs, and those who didn’t. A few factors emerged as strongly protective: participation in organised activities – especially sport – three or four times a week, total time spent with parents during the week, feeling cared about at school, and not being outdoors in the late evenings.”
Laws were changed making it illegal to buy tobacco under the age of 18 and alcohol under the age of 20. But that wasn’t all – advertising for tobacco and alcohol was banned and an infamous law was passed prohibiting children between the ages of 13 and 16 from being outside after 10 pm in the winter and midnight in the summer.
I don’t have a child between those ages but I imagine that such changes were dramatic and wonder if that could even be possible in the United States at any level. I do know as a parent that taking the same approach would be met with opposition from said children. I feel like there would be definite benefits of such a curfew but I also say that as a mother of younger children. It’s easy for me to say and maybe more difficult for parents of teens to do.
Funding in Iceland was put toward programs to improve and strengthen parent-child relationships. Parents were encouraged to attend lectures about the importance of spending not only quality of time with their children but quantity – and in talking to their kids about their lives, knowing their friends and keeping them at home in the evenings.
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I volunteer in school, I learn who are in my kids classes and I hear their conversations. I can 100% stand behind these changes that were made in Iceland. As a busy parent I do feel limited in quantity of time and therefore try to focus on quality. But I strongly believe in quantity of time with your children. Both my husband I try to set aside time with each of our children individually. And even if we are busy, I have to step back and remember how important it is to have that time, even if it is stalling at bedtime. I have found that some of the most revealing and important conversations with my children have occurred as I am putting them to bed.
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Iceland increased state funding for organized sports, music, art, dance and other clubs. This was intended to give kids ways to feel part of a group rather than turning to drugs and alcohol but also to help kids from low-income families.
My oldest is now 10 years old. Last year he began swimming on a local club swim team. It’s a huge commitment for his age – practices are 1 1/2 hours a day, 5 days a week. We don’t always attend, especially if he has a lot going on with school and we still have him in scouts and piano lessons. Is it over-scheduling? I wonder and worry about this all the time. We are not a sporty family. I didn’t grow up doing a lot of athletics and neither did my husband. This world is very new to us but I have seen benefits. When we first committed to the swim team, I had a clear purpose in mind. I felt like his involvement would reduce his anxiety. Even at 9, he was a very anxious child. Have I seen improvements? Most certainly. He has greater confidence, is goal-driven and part of a team with similar priorities. So, when I read that Iceland has found that involvement in sports or other clubs helps give kids the resilience to avoid teen drug abuse, I believe it.
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Other European nations have attempted similar programs at a local level to combat teen drug abuse but no other countries have enacted such changes to prevent teen drug abuse on a national level like Iceland. But would something like this work in the U.S.? The article in MosaicSience.com says, “A national programme along the lines of Youth in Iceland is unlikely to be introduced in the US, however. One major obstacle is that while in Iceland there is long-term commitment to the national project, community health programmes in the US are usually funded by short-term grants.”
Regardless of whether such a program would work nationwide, the results from Youth in Iceland are telling. Wherever there is a focus on parents, school and community working together to support children there is sure to be success. Would you support any of these types of initiatives to prevent teen drug abuse in your community?