Tonka CARES program takes on teen drug, alcohol use perception - My29 WFTC Minneapolis-St. Paul

Tonka CARES program takes on teen drug, alcohol use perception

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MINNETONKA, Minn. (KMSP) -

One local high school says there's a perception among teens that their peers use drugs and alcohol more than they actually do, and their effort to dispel that belief is paying off in a big way.

In fact, the community-based group Tonka CARES has seen such success, other schools are trying to use it as they work toward stopping substance abuse.

According to Minnesota Teen Challenge, nearly 63 percent of high school seniors have used alcohol in the past year and nearly 31 percent have used marijuana -- but Minnetonka High School believes turning negative numbers into a positive can help buck that trend.

"I feel like I'm making a difference and a change in the school through what we are doing," Sam Hopp told FOX 9 News.

James Hermansen, Patrick Cauley and Hopp are all part of the Tonka Cares program and the Reveal What's Real campaign, which works to change the perception of alcohol and drug use among teens.

"I'm trying to help raise the number of people who don't drink and do drugs," Hermansen told FOX 9 News.

They do this by emphasizing how many teens are not using instead of focusing on how many are.

"We're trying to stop the misperception that everyone does drugs or alcohol," Hopp said. "Most kids at our school don't.

A 2004 survey at the school found alcohol use declined 30 percent among ninth-graders, dropped 25 percent in 10th-grade students, and it's down 15 percent among juniors.

When it comes to marijuana, 71 percent of the student body says it has never tried it -- and that's a message the teens want to spread.

"It makes it easier for the new students who come in to say, 'Oh, not everyone drinks,' so they don't bother drinking or find friends that don't' need to and realize it's something they don't have to do or get involved in," Cauley said.

The students themselves are getting involved to shape the views of other youth. Each month, teenage mentors go into sixth-grade classrooms to talk about drugs and alcohol.

"When these young kids see role models living that healthy lifestyle, right away they say, 'That's the cool thing to do,'" explained Dave Nelson, of Tonka Leadership Challenge.

Imogen Davis, the project director, said a grant is helping them share their success story by educating two other communities on how they can reduce their underage substance abuse rate.

"We are telling the positive story that doesn't necessarily get told," said Davis. "There is not a wall around our community. Kids are interacting and so the broader our efforts are, the more effective they will be."

The students say positive change in perception is being felt across the campus.

"Knowing that other people shared my same beliefs -- it made me feel more comfortable to be myself in this school," Hopp said.

The effort to reduce the abuse combines a lot of elements, but here are the top three tips for success:

  1. When parents strongly disapprove, teens are 5 times less likely to use
  2. When parents monitor teens and alcohol in the home, use drops
  3. Sharing statistics with children in a positive way helps kids feel less pressure.


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