CHICAGO — Summer's almost here and that means teens will have more time on their hands to pick up bad habits — such as smoking marijuana and drinking alcohol, a new federal survey says.
The National Survey on Drug Use and Health found that June and July were the most popular time for teens to try marijuana, with about 6,300 new users a day during those months. That compares with about 4,700 new users a day during other times of the year.
Additionally, the survey found that first-time use of alcohol and cigarettes also increases during the summer, when many teens are less supervised and, particularly in this economy, having trouble finding jobs.
At a Friday news conference in Chicago, White House drug czar John Walters challenged teens and parents to quell marijuana use this summer, noting that the drug has been developed to become much more potent and addictive over the last 20 years.
"You are going to be on the front line of those influences," said Walters, who heads the Office of National Drug Control Policy, addressing a group of Chicago high school students. "But we need adults to stand with you."
Several teens who were present said they understood the risks of drug use, which they learned in their health classes. Still, they know other teens who use marijuana, which they and surveys say is the most common illegal drug taken by high-schoolers. Some said they even know elementary school students who've been caught using it.
"It's definitely a problem," said Julissa Santoy, a freshman at Whitney Young High School, a public magnet school. "We should say something. We shouldn't just mind our own business."
But Maribel Davila, another freshman, also placed responsibility on parents.
"A lot of kids are pushed because there's a lot of stuff going on at home," she said, referring such things as divorce, adults' own addiction issues and other family discord.
None of the students were surprised by the findings. Nor was at least one researcher not involved with this survey who tracks teen drug use.
While its helpful to know when young people are most likely to start taking drugs "the real question is 'What should they do based on that information?"' said Lloyd Johnston, who heads the University of Michigan's Institute for Social Research and oversees an annual national survey of teens called "Monitoring the Future."
The most recent University of Michigan survey, released late last year, found an 11 percent drop in illegal drug use in the past two years. But it also found that, while marijuana use had dropped, nearly half of 12th-graders surveyed said they had tried it at least once — and about a third said they had used it in the last year.
Walters agreed with Johnston that the best way to deter marijuana use is not just to say "Don't do drugs."
To that end, federal officials have begun running advertisements directed at teens that urge them to take a stand with friends who use marijuana and other drugs.
The government has also begun a campaign titled "School's Out — Don't let your teen's summer go to pot," which maps out basic tactics for parents such as setting rules, monitoring a teen's activity and scheduling family time.
At Friday's news conference, YMCA executive director Ken Gladish called the suggestions "fundamental common sense."
He referred to a recent YMCA survey that found 14.3 million young people are unsupervised outside school — a number that triples in the summertime.
Meanwhile, he said, more than half of those teens surveyed said they wished they had access to more supervised programs in their neighborhoods.