What did we learn from our young people?
The Research Approach
At the centre of Planet Youth is regular research that gives us an understanding of the attitudes and behaviours of our young people. A comprehensive lifestyle questionnaire is completed by Year 10 students to give us an insight into many aspects of their lives including substance use, physical health, mental health, physical activity, recreation, other interests and activities, family and school experience, internet use, bullying and number of other areas. There are about 80 questions in total in the current Planet Youth questionnaire and all responses are anonymous.
The survey responses are analysed and shared to give each community the information needed to develop action plans designed to address specific ‘risk factors’ and ‘protective factors’. The Planet Youth research provides a wealth of insight and highlights opportunities to improve the health and wellbeing of young people and to improve the social environment they are growing up in. The research is then repeated regularly to track any changes that may be occurring and inform action.
The 2022 Survey Findings
In 2022, Year 10 students from four local Blue Mountains schools participated in the questionnaire. A total of 2046 student completed the survey across 10 different areas in New South Wales and South Australia, including 446 students in the Blue Mountains.
The Blue Mountains survey highlights the link between ‘protective factors’ and substance use. Protective factors are things that are present in our community, and in the lives of our young people, that help to protect them from the risk of substance use. When a protective factor is absent, the risk of substance use is significantly increased.
Here are some of the key findings from the Blue Mountains 2022 survey in the areas of substance use and protective factors relating to the areas of family, peer group, leisure activities and school. The full report can be viewed and downloaded as a PDF below.
The 2022 survey results indicate that the number of Year 10 students in the Blue Mountains using alcohol and cannabis has reduced overall since the 2019 survey. Use of e-cigarettes (vaping) was 5 times higher than reported in 2019. There are now significantly more respondents who report trying alcohol or cannabis before the age of 13, and the use of some other substances has also increased.
The research shows us that a number of protective factors are present for the young people surveyed in the Blue Mountains. These protective factors include feeling safe at school, knowing parents disapprove of substance use, and good levels of participation in physical exercise.
The research also gives us some clues about the protective factors that need to be strengthened in our community. According to the Blue Mountains survey findings, the protective factors that can be strengthened to reduce the risk of substance use include adult disapproval of drunkenness, adult refusal to supply substances at home, parents spending time with children on weekends, parents knowing the parents of their child’s friends, young people spending less time out late at night, and increased community connections.
SO WHAT? Knowing the parents of your child’s friends, knowing where your child is in the evenings, spending time with your child on weekends, letting your child know that you disapprove of them using drugs and alcohol, and refusing to supply alcohol to adolescents are all proven, long-term protective factors that can prevent substance use. If more of us can do more of these things, our young people will be less likely to use drugs and alcohol.
SO WHAT? Peer pressure is real. When adults are more involved in a young person’s life and can have honest, supportive conversations about substance use, young people can be more aware and feel more confident about making choices to avoid the risks. When adults across the community support each other, and young people know that the adults around them are actively protecting them, the risk of substance use amongst young people is significantly reduced.
SO WHAT? As teenagers get older, the time pressures of study, social life and paid work contributes to young people dropping out of sport and other activities. Too much unorganised, unsupervised social ‘hang out’ time is a known risk factor that can lead to substance use. Regular participation in sport and other organised activities is a protective factor that is proven to reduce the risk of alcohol and drug use amongst young people.
SO WHAT? School is at the centre of most young people’s lives. For many it is a safe space. Positive engagement with school and school work is a strong protective factor that helps to reduce the risk of alcohol and drug use. The involvement of parents and carers in a child’s school life, their connection with the school community, and their participation in school activities are all strong protective factors against substance use.
So, what next?
Overall the 2022 survey shows us there are some positive trends in rleation to alcohol and cannabis use amongst young people. It also highlights some areas of concern for the wellbeing of our young people. The protective factors that may have the biggest impact on youth substance use in our community are adults refusing to supply substances especially at home, parents knowing and communicating with parents of their child’s friends, parents spending time with children on weekends, young people spending less time out late at night, and increased community connections. The research findings also suggest that increased mental health support for young people is also an immediate need. So, what can we do now as a community that will make a difference?
Read more about what we can do together here.
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Planet Youth Blue Mountains is an Alcohol and Drug Foundation funded initiative that is being implemented by the Local Drug Action Team in partnership with Blue Mountains City Council and Mountains Youth Services Team (MYST) and supported by local schools, community members and a number of community services including Platform Youth Services, Ted Noffs Foundation, Nepean Blue Mountains Primary Health Network, Stronger Families Alliance, Belong Blue Mountains, Springwood Neighbourhood Centre, Blackheath Area Neighbourhood Centre, Blue Mountains Women’s Health & Resource Centre, Catholic Care, Uniting, TAFE Blue Mountains and the NSW Department of Education.