Teen drug use falls as more states legalize

Teen alcohol and drug use declined in 2014, according to the 2014 Monitoring the Future study. The annual survey questions 40,000 students in 8th, 10th and 12th grade. “In 2014, a year when marijuana was all over the news and national attitudes toward the drug are relaxing, teen use actually trended downward,” notes the Washington Post.


“Cigarettes posted the sharpest drop in daily use, falling from nearly 25 percent of 12th graders in 1997 to about 7 percent in 2014,” reports the Post.

E-cigarettes — which made it on the survey for the first time — are more popular than tobacco cigarettes.

Frequent alcohol use has declined, though not as dramatically as smoking, while daily marijuana use has held steady or fallen since 2011.

“Both alcohol and cigarette use in 2014 are at their lowest points since the study began in 1975,” the study’s authors announced.

Teens are busy, stressed, exhausted

Too much schoolwork leaves teenagers stressed and exhausted writes Vicki Abeles in USA Today.

Since school started this month, my 15-year-old son, Zak, has been having trouble sleeping. He’s been waking up in the middle of the night, worrying if he’s finished everything on his to-do list.

Compared to many students in our San Francisco neighborhood, Zak has a “light” schedule. He goes to school, participates in jazz band and does his homework. By design, he’s not the classically overscheduled child.

And yet, Zak’s daily routine of school-band-homework still manages to eat up most of his day. When Saturday finally rolls around, he’s not the carefree teen I wish he could be. Instead, he’s anxious, calculating whether he has enough time to get together with friends in between weekend assignments.

Her anti-stress documentary, Race to Nowhere, which debuted five years ago, is airing on public television this week. Abeles is launching a social media campaign called Ban Busy.

Some high school students work very hard to get into selective colleges, which now require lots of AP courses and extracurriculars. What percentage of teens are on the high-stress track?

Study: ‘It gets better’ prevents depression

Telling ninth graders that people can change can lower the risk of depression, according to a University of Texas study published in Clinical Psychological Science. 

Lifelong struggles with depression often start with puberty, says David Yeager, assistant professor of psychology and lead author of the study.

The study asked one group of incoming ninth graders to read a passage describing how individuals’ personalities are subject to change.

The passage emphasized that being bullied is not the result of a fixed, personal deficiency, nor are bullies essentially “bad” people. An article about brain plasticity and endorsements from older students accompanied the passage. After reading the materials, the students were asked to write their own narrative about how personalities can change, to be shared with future ninth-graders.

Students in the control group read a passage that focused on the malleability of a trait not related to personality: athletic ability.

Nine months later, “rates of clinically significant depressive symptoms rose by roughly 39 percent among students in the control group, in line with previous research on depression in adolescence.” However, students who were told personality is malleable showed no increase in depressive symptoms, even if they’d been bullied.

That jibes with research on the academic benefits of having a “growth mindset,” the belief that ability is malleable. And with the “it gets better” campaign aimed at gay teens facing abuse.

Attention deficit or sleep deficit?

Some cases of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder may be a sleep disorder in disguise, writes Vatsal G. Thakkar, a psychiatry professor, in the New York Times.

Eleven percent of schoolchildren have been diagnosed with ADHD, he writes. Adult diagnoses are up too.

For some people — especially children — sleep deprivation does not necessarily cause lethargy; instead they become hyperactive and unfocused.

Adults and children are sleeping less, Thakkar writes.

The number of adults who reported sleeping fewer than seven hours each night went from some 2 percent in 1960 to more than 35 percent in 2011. Sleep is even more crucial for children, who need delta sleep — the deep, rejuvenating, slow-wave kind — for proper growth and development. Yet today’s youngsters sleep more than an hour less than they did a hundred years ago. And for all ages, contemporary daytime activities — marked by nonstop 14-hour schedules and inescapable melatonin-inhibiting iDevices — often impair sleep. It might just be a coincidence, but this sleep-restricting lifestyle began getting more extreme in the 1990s, the decade with the explosion in A.D.H.D. diagnoses.

Children with an A.D.H.D. diagnosis are likely to also have “sleep-disordered breathing like apnea or snoring, restless leg syndrome or non-restorative sleep, in which delta sleep is frequently interrupted,” he writes.

In a 2004 study, 34 children with A.D.H.D.  all showed a deficit of delta sleep, compared with only a few of the 32 control subjects.

Sleep disorders can be treated, writes Thakkar, who has a rare form of narcolepsy.

Early high school start times don’t fit adolescents’ sleep patterns, research shows. “Tor a teenager, a 7 a.m. alarm call is the equivalent of a 5 a.m. start for people in their 50s,” writes Russell Foster in New Scientist. It’s the hormones.

Can we make middle school less awful?

How Can We Make Middle School Less Awful? ask Joshua Glenn and Elizabeth Foy Larsen on Slate. They call for giving  “as much attention to emotions and values” as to academics.

Every morning, the sixth-, seventh-, and eighth-graders at Paul Cuffee Middle School in Providence, R.I. join together in what’s called a Circle of Power and Respect. In this “CPR,” they discuss anything from an upcoming science project to how to get boys to stop purposefully clogging the toilets.

Students write a social contract for the school.  Here’s this year’s version:

1. Respect the environment, yourself, and the community.
2. Cooperate: Teamwork makes the dream work.
3. Support each other even when the odds are against us.
4. Be yourself, do what you love, and try!
5. Be resilient: Fall 7 times, stand up 8.

When students behave badly, Principal Nancy Cresser asks which part of the contract they’ve broken.

“They know exactly which ones they’ve violated and they figure out how to fix it,” she says. Instead of storming off or pouting about the unfairness of the rules, Cresser says that Paul Cuffee students are OK with being held accountable. They’re the ones who created the rules, after all. So the students in question come up with a plan to fix what happened.

Creating a safe, supportive school pays off academically, write Glenn and Larsen. Although most students come from low-income families, Cuffee outscores a wealthier school across town in reading and math.

Start school later for more learning

Middle schoolers do better when school starts — and ends — later, according to a North Carolina study by economist Finley Edwards described in Education Next.

. . . delaying school start times by one hour, from roughly 7:30 to 8:30, increases standardized test scores by at least 2 percentile points in math and 1 percentile point in reading.

Starting early has the most effect on older middle schoolers, supporting the theory that hormonal changes make it hard for adolescents to get to sleep in the early evening, Edwards writes. Students get more sleep and have fewer absences. But late starts have other advantages:  With less unsupervised time after school, latebirds spend more time on homework and watch less TV.

“The effect of a later start time in both math and reading is more than twice as large for students in the bottom third of the test-score distribution than for students in the top third,” Edwards found.

Start times had no effect on elementary students, the study found, but elementary schools start later than middle schools, so that could obscure the effect.

Districts could swap elementary and secondary school start times to improve achievement without spending more on busing, Edwards suggests. Or districts could invest in more buses to start all schools at 8:30 or later. The achievement gain would be similar to the effect of cutting class sizes at a fraction of the cost.

Teen sex is dreary on MTV’s ‘Skins’

MTV’s Skins, which features “lurid and explicit” teenage sex, teaches teens some valuable lessons, writes Ruth Marcus in the Washington Post. Other teens-gone-wild shows make adolescent sex and drug use “seem glamorous and exciting,” she writes.

CW’s “Gossip Girl” . . .  portrays the “scandalous lives of Manhattan’s elite,” as the anonymous narrator says at the start of every episode.

By contrast, the kids on “Skins” seem sad, lonely and disturbed, each in his or her own distinctively troubled way. Cadie is a strung-out pill-popper with a stable of inept, pill-dispensing shrinks and parents who are too self-absorbed to pay her much attention beyond suggesting that she take her meds. Chris is a strung-out pill-popper – he’s taken an excess of Erectagra – whose mother abandons him with a scrawled note and $1,000 in cash in an envelope.

They manage to make sex seem like a dreary, transactional chore – a sex-for-pills exchange is arranged to engineer a loss of virginity – and drugs and alcohol seem like, well, drugs and alcohol, unpleasantly disorienting and prone to induce vomiting.

Marcus thinks teens will appreciate their own nagging parents after watching the checked-out, boozed-up parents on Skins.

Will teens watch Skins as a cautionary tale of the downside of sex, drugs and lax parenting? Or will they take the show as a sign that promiscuity and drug abuse are normal?

K-8 beats middle school in study

Students in K-8 schools do better than students who move from elementary to a stand-alone middle school, according to a Columbia University study published in Education Next. The study followed New York City students from third through eighth grade.

In the year students moved to middle school — sixth or seventh grade — math and English scores fell substantially compared to K-8 counterparts. Their achievement continued to decline through eighth grade.

The gap isn’t explained by spending or by class size, researchers Jonah Rockoff and Benjamin Lockwood write. Cohort size — the number of students in the same grade — was a factor. The K-8 schools averaged 75 students in the same grade; the middle schools averaged more than 200.

Developmental psychologists have shown that adolescent children commonly exhibit traits such as negativity, low self-esteem, and an inability to judge the risks and consequences of their actions, which may make them especially difficult to educate in large groups. The combining of multiple elementary schools and their students also disrupts a student’s immediate peer group. And middle schools often serve a more diverse student population than many students encountered in elementary school.

Rockoff and Lockwood aren’t sure why the transition to a larger middle school is so difficult. But they believe New York City children aren’t much different from students elsewhere.

After interviewing the study’s lead author, Columbia Business School professor Jonah Rockoff,  Martin West observes that Americans rate their local middle schools far lower than elementaries in the EdNext-PEPG Survey. “Rockoff and Lockwood’s research suggests that parents are onto something – and that the emerging trend toward shuttering middle schools and replacing them with K-8s is an encouraging development.”

Abuse in literature

Lessons from Literature hopes to persuade English teachers to use literature to “facilitate discussion and build awareness about physical, verbal and sexual abuse.”  The first two sample lessons use Their Eyes Were Watching God and Lord of the Flies.