BARTON COUNTY — Barton County ranks high in the state of Kansas for teen risk behaviors including alcohol use along with four other counties including Barton, Rush, Pawnee and Stafford.
Dr. Leo Herrman, assistant professor of psychology and director of the clinical psychology graduate program at Fort Hays State University, is spear heading a study of alcohol use in Barton County along with Instructor Betsy Leeds. The funds for the study came through a grant with the Golden Belt Community Foundation.
The researchers became interested in a study when they were performing research in Jetmore studying the relationships of kids killed in alcohol related car wrecks and did it result in different behaviors of the survivors and friends. It didn’t.
“Teens don’t have a sense of their own mortality,” said Dr. Leeds. “They think “I’m invincible.””
Their brains haven’t developed enough to understand consequences. Complete brain maturity occurs about age 25, he added.
According to the Communities That Care data, only a minority of the parents in the Golden Belt area have talked to their teens about alcohol use and 15 to 30 percent of the teens reported
there were no clear rules in their house regarding alcohol use. Research has shown that parental involvement and parental monitoring play a vital role in influencing adolescent’s participation in substance use, said Dr. Herrman in his grant application.
The goal of the project is two-fold: reduce teen alcohol abuse by a skills training targeting effective parenting; and develop a program unique to rural communities. They plan to make this a 3-4 year process.
As a part of the Communities That Care data for Barton County, the juvenile arrest rate for alcohol violations dropped from 10.85 in 2002 to 5.56 arrests per thousand juveniles in 2004 while the Kansas state arrest data went up from 9.45 to 10.15 juveniles per thousand in 2004, the last year data was available. This includes the juvenile arrests rates for liquor law violations, drunkenness and DUI.
The data was consistent with the adult alcohol related arrests. In 2002, there were 483.83 arrests per 100,000 of those 18 and older in Barton County, and 957.97 per 100,000 arrests of adults in the state.
By 2004, these numbers dropped to 91.02 arrests per 100,000 adults in Barton County, while the Kansas state data shows that 972.25 per 100,000 Kansans were arrested for alcohol-related crimes. This is the last year numbers were available, according to the Communities That Care data.
“What is unique about rural areas?” said Herrman. He suggested there might be historical cultural influences, but that is a part of what they hope to find out.
The first objective for Dr. Herrman’s study will be developing a class in spring of 8-10 parents who will study data driven modules of effective parenting of teen and social media.
A portion of the class will cover becoming technically savvy enough to monitor cell phones, Facebook and Twitter, which teens use to plan for parties, said Dr. Herrman. The point of the class will be to develop healthy teens and provide structure in the family. The study will be to find out ways for parents to guide teens.
Leeds said, “We want to find out where are parents are, finding out ways to guide to me the needs to parents.”
The know families are busy and may possibly develop an online teen parenting class.
“The data shows skills training is the most effective,” for the parents said Dr. Herrman.
Leeds said, “If we help one family, it will be worth it.”