Frequent Marijuana Use Among Teens is Up

A joint. JJIE file photo. Ryan Schill / JJIE.orgHeavy marijuana use among teens has increased drastically in recent years, with nearly one in 10 sparking up 20 times or more each month, according to a new survey of young Americans released this morning.

The findings represent nearly an 80 percent increase in past-month heavy marijuana use among high school aged youth since 2008.

Overall, the rate of marijuana use among teens has increased. Past month marijuana users, or teens that have used marijuana in the month prior to the survey, increased 42 percent, to 27 percent of teens, compared to 2008 findings. Past-year and lifetime use also increased, but not as drastically, at 26 percent and 21 percent respectively.

Marijuana use has not been this widespread among American teens since 1998, when the past-month usage rate hovered around 27 percent, according the survey conducted by The Partnership at and the MetLife Foundation.

“Heavy use of marijuana – particularly beginning in adolescence – brings the risk of serious problems and our data show it is linked to involvement with alcohol and other drugs as well,” Steve Pasierb, President and CEO of The Partnership at, said in a press release. “Kids who begin using drugs or alcohol as teenagers are more likely to struggle with substance use disorders when compared to those who start using after the teenage years.”

The use of marijuana is becoming normalized among teens, too, according to the survey of 3,322 teen-aged students in grades 9-12 and 821 parents. Seventy-one percent of teens said they have friends who use the drug, up 64 percent from 2008, and only 26 percent agreed with the statement, “in my school, most teens don’t smoke marijuana.”

Still, while the number of teens who have used marijuana in their lifetime is on the rise, less than half of high school aged students have actually used the drug. The rate of teens who disapproved of their peer’s use of the drug remained unchanged since 2008, with more than 60 percent disapproving of the practice – and 41 percent who said they “strongly disapprove.”

Heavy users  are drastically more likely to use other drugs such as cocaine, Ecstasy and prescription drugs, compared to their peers who reported not using marijuana in the past year, the report found.

Teen boys, especially Hispanic males, have led the increase in the past year. Heavy usage by teen boys usage increased at nearly twice the rate of their female counterparts. Hispanic high school males are more likely to have used marijuana in the past year compared to their peers. Fifty percent reported using the drug in the past year, compared to 40 percent of black and 35 percent of white teens.

“The latest findings showing an increase in marijuana use among teens is unsettling and should serve as a wake-up call to everyone in a position to prevent unhealthy behavior,” said Dennis White, President and CEO of MetLife Foundation, who contributed to the report. “While it may be difficult to clearly understand just how dangerous marijuana use can be for teens, it is imperative that we all pay attention to the warning signs and intervene anyway we can.”

The findings are part of the 23rd annual Partnership Attitude Tracking Study, a yearly gauge of teens’ and parents’ attitudes toward issues that affect their lives.


Photo credit: Ryan Schill/JJIE

Runaway Youth Helped Using 10-Question Tool

Experts estimate about 2 million kids run away from home each year putting them at greater risk of physical or sexual abuse, homelessness, drug addiction and physical and mental health problems. Many are in need of medical care or other services. To ensure runaways get the help they need, police in St. Paul, Minn. who encounter runaways are using a short, 10-question screening tool to assess the runaway’s safety and whether they have been victimized while they’ve been away from home.

Medical professionals and researchers in Minnesota developed the 10-Question Tool with assistance from local police. The process began in 2002 when Laurel Edinburgh, a pediatric nurse practitioner at Children’s Hospital and Clinics of Minnesota’s Midwest Children’s Resource Center (MCRC), talked with Jim Lynch, commander of the St. Paul Police Department’s juvenile unit, about how to screen youth to identify runaways with the highest needs. But Lynch was adamant, Edinburgh said, the survey only include 10 questions because police wouldn’t have time for more.

“The community got together and started thinking about what are the interventions that can be done through the school or the police,” said Edinburgh.

Edinburgh said some of the questions in the tool were modeled on questions included in the Minnesota Student Survey given every three years to students in the 6th, 9th and 12th grades.

In communities employing the 10-Question Tool, Edinburgh said, all police receive training in its use. School resource officers — police assigned to public schools — receive additional training.

Running away is considered a status offense in most states — meaning it’s only illegal for minors — and a primary goal for police officers encountering a runaway is to determine if they need medical attention or other community resources. The questionnaire aids police in making that decision before a kid gets lost in the system, Edinburgh said.

“Because status offenders bounce between many different agencies how can you find the kid and deliver the right type of service to the teen who needs the service?” Edinburgh asked.

According to Federal Bureau of Investigation Special Agent Nathan Whiteman, police should begin an independent investigation if a runaway indicates he or she has been sexually abused.

“The officer should also look at the totality of the circumstances to refer. I think some training related to abuse and exploitation would be beneficial for officers,” Whiteman wrote in an email exchange. But he added that specially trained Crimes Against Children investigators should handle cases of that nature.

Many runaways leave because of sexual or physical abuse in their home. In fact, according to the National Runaway Hotline, more than one third of runaway girls and boys report having been sexually abused, and 43 percent report having been physically abused, before leaving home. Additionally, more than 50 percent of youth in shelters or on the street said their parents either kicked them out or knew they were leaving and did not care.

Estimates of the number of runaways in the nation vary, but a decade's old study by the federal Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention put it at some 1.7 million between the ages of 7 and 17. A 2010 study by the Urban Institute estimated that one in five youth had run away from home at some point before reaching age 18.

“Runaways have always been and will always be a concern,” Whiteman said. But parents can help by simply being “present in their child’s life” and listening to them.

When building the questionnaire Edinburgh said it was important to write questions that would provide the most complete picture of a runaway teen, including questions about previous abuse and drug use.

“Are there things we can identify that we know are related to high-risk teens — where we know they have some resiliency — that we can build on?” Edinburgh said.

But for the questionnaire to be effective, the teens must answer honestly.

“If youth are asked questions they do respond to adults who show they care about them,” Edinburgh said. “And we need pathways, once you ask a question, that tell us there’s intervention that can be put in place.”

Often, just knowing they have someone to talk to makes a very big difference for runaways, Edinburgh said.

“We need this kid to know that there is someone at their school or in a truancy program that cares about them; that notices they’ve run away,” Edinburgh said.

But many runaways stop going to school and can easily fall behind, so a primary goal of the 10-Question Tool, Edinburgh said, is “getting kids back to school and getting them on a normal developmental trajectory.”

The 10-Question Screening Tool:

  1. Why did you leave home?
  2. How long have you been away from home?
  3. Who have you been staying with while away from home?
  4. Did someone touch you in a way you did not like or sexually assault you when you were away from home?
  5. Do you have health issues that you need medical care for now?
  6. Has anyone hurt you or tried to hurt you while you were away from home?
  7. Are you afraid at home? If yes, why? Will you be safe at home? Use a 0–10 scale to quantify safe feeling (In this scale, 0 is safest and 10 is least safe).
  8. Do you have someone you can talk to at home or school?
  9. Do you drink or do drugs?
  10. Are you a member of a gang?

Photo by Child Quest International 

A Look Inside Atlanta Public Schools [INFOGRAPHIC]

INFOGRAPHIC: a look inside Atlanta Public Schools. --CLICK TO VIEW--When the U.S. Department of Education released the latest installment of the Civil Rights Data Collection (CRDC), statistics covering the 2009-10 academic school year, last week it made headlines around the country.

The CRDC represents a wealth of information from just about every corner of our country’s educational landscape. The report also shined some light on a number of gaps in educational opportunity and discipline on a national scale. Every state, school, district and county with a public school system is in there with detailed numbers attached.

The Office of Civil Rights, a division of the Department of Education, has been collecting CRDC information since 1968 to help identify gaps, disparities and trends in educational achievement and opportunities. The work was suspended briefly in 2006 under then President George W. Bush, but was reinstated and expanded by President Obama last year — collecting data for the first time on things such as law enforcement referrals for students.

“For the first time we have an incredible new source of data that tells us where opportunity gaps are in ways we’ve never seen before as a country,” Russlynn Ali, Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights at the Department of Education, said in a telephone briefing with reporters last week following the release of the first installment of the new CRDC data. “In recent years we have more data than ever before on identifying the achievement gap and where it exists.”

The New York Times and other media outlets have done some great and extensive reporting on national trends in discipline and opportunity gaps that surfaced from the data. Among the findings:

  • Black students were more than three and a half times as likely to be suspended or expelled than their white peers.
  • More than 70 percent of students in school-related arrests were black or Hispanic.
  • Black and Hispanic students account for 44 percent of the students covered in the survey, but only account for 26 percent of students enrolled in gifted or talented programs.
  • On average, teachers at high-minority schools were paid $2,251 less annually than their colleagues in other schools.

But one of the biggest benefits of this collection is the ability to drill down to any level, for any district, for any school, anywhere in the nation. Since the JJIE is located in metro Atlanta, we decided to take a look at the Atlanta Public School (APS) system.

Examining the data for the City of Atlanta, a number of the national trends seem to hold true. The percentage of black students suspended or expelled was high compared to the number in the school system, and black enrollment in gifted or talented programs was disproportionately low.

At first glance a handfull of findings from the self-reported data stick out. For example, the average teacher salary of $94,000 seems strikingly high. A look at six counties surrounding the APS district shows a wide range in average salaries:

  • Atlanta - $94,058.90
  • Cobb – $48,372.50
  • DeKalb – $82,488.50
  • Fulton (non-APS) – $38,759.80
  • Gwinnett – $45, 680.30
  • Clayton – $81,138.60
  • Douglas – $125,846.00

But looking at the salary averages across districts can be misleading if you fail to dig into the reporting behind it, Department of Education spokesperson David Thomas said.

"Many comparisons are possible with the CRDC school-level expenditure data, particularly within-district comparisons," Thomas said in an e-mail. "However, data users must analyze the data between states and districts with caution due to variations in the district-selected inclusions and exclusions."

These inclusions and exclusions account  for the wide range of reported average salaries in the Atlanta area.  Here's a breakdown Thomas provided to help clarify:

Breakdown of average teacher reporting inclusions and exclusions for 2009 CRDC data, metro Atlanta.

The new database has only been live for about a week and a number of features – including the ability to easily track trends over the years of available data – are still in the works. If you want to see how your own school or district measures up, visit

Here’s a round up of Atlanta Public School statistics from the CRDC 2009:


INFOGRAPHIC: a look inside Atlanta Public Schools. CRDC data, 2009.


This infographic was originally published on

Visualizing ‘Generation Text’ [infographic]

"How would you feel if you couldn't text for a day?" Lab 42, a company that specializes in custom surveys, market research and data visualization, asked a survey group of American teenagers. The teens weren't too concerned. After all, they would still have Facebook.

Texting isn't exactly new and isn't limited to a single demographic, but for this infographic the surveyors decided to take a sample from 500 leading textperts - today's teens - through the use of social media networks. The survey resulted in some interesting findings. Check out the image below for the complete results.

The sample group consisted of 500 American teens between the age of 13 and 21. Lab 42 uses "third party survey software" and cross-references survey data with the participant's social networking accounts to ensure the validity of data. While the company doesn't publish their complete methodology online additional information is available by contacting


Generation Text: Teens & Their Texting Habits Inforgraphic by Lab42