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Texas school surveys students about support for medical marijuana

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At one time during your adolescence, if you’re under 40 years of age, you probably answered survey questions concerning a Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System, or YRBSS. These surveys have existed for over 30 years, usually assessing the at-risk social behaviors of 8th, 10th, and 12th grade students. YRBSS includes a national school-based survey conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC); and state, territorial, tribal, and local surveys conducted by the corresponding health and education agencies and tribal governments.

These YRBSS, according to the CDC, monitor six types of health at-risk behaviors that contribute to the leading causes of death and disability among youth and adults, including—

Behaviors that contribute to unintentional injuries and violence;
Sexual behaviors that contribute to unintended pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV infection;
Alcohol and other drug use;
Tobacco use;
Unhealthy dietary behaviors;
Inadequate physical activity.

YRBSS also measures the prevalence of obesity and asthma among youth and young adults. But, should YRBSS contain questions regarding the political views of the individual’s parents?

Recently, a very questionable—if not highly suspicious—YRBSS was brought to my attention. Contacted by the local media, I was asked for an opinion about a few questions on a survey passed out at a local high school.

The first issue which caught my eye was the “SurveyMonkey” link at the bottom of the 63-question survey. I thought, surely a high school did not consider this to be a valid survey source for their students?

The first of the final two questions on the survey asked: Do you support the legalization of medical marijuana? The second asked: Does anyone in your home support the legalization of marijuana?

Of course these questions jumped out at me. Why is a survey posing questions concerning political issues, and especially about one’s home political climate?

It was also brought to my attention that the survey was the product of an organization called Voices Against Substance Abuse, and their local affiliate had put the questionnaire together. This was not something harm reduction researchers would consider to be an effective YRBSS.

Texas Marijuana Policy Advocacy Workshops — January 2018
Texas Marijuana Policy Advocacy Workshops — January 2018

As both a parent and an educator, this survey raised a few ethical red flags; one being that a secondary educational system (such as a high school) would know that marijuana is a slang term, and would use the correct scientific name, cannabis. The primary objective is to educate, and hopefully without bias. Secondly, use a reputable survey; and lastly, remember that public schools should never use a survey from an organization with a pre-stated political agenda.

The first two issues I can blame on ignorance; but of course, they are a secondary educational system, and not an institution of higher education. The third issue, using a survey from an organization with a political agenda, is possible litigation just waiting to happen. The survey, albeit “anonymous” as all are, crossed the line when asking opinions on medical marijuana (cannabis), and broke down the door with the question of whether or not one’s family member was pro legalization.

I’m sure that after the meeting with the parents of the students and school officials, future YRBSS will be free from the collection of personal and family members’ political views.

A child’s school will usually notify the parents of an YRBSS, but not always. One cannot see their child’s YRBSS; they are “anonymous”, but if your child comes home explaining they answered a group of questions concerning at-risk behavior, contact the school administration and respectfully ask to examine a copy. It’s your right as a parent.

Remember, some of the questions are of a sexual nature, and involve particular settings, both on and off campus. Don’t freak out, they’re just questions to examine the risks to which our youth are exposing themselves. Some of these are the same risks that we engaged in during our own adolescence. Also, identity crisis affects all students; most are becoming self-aware, and this is a critical period in an adolescent’s life. Effective communication with your child is the key.

Parents want their children to develop problem solving and thought processing skills, communicate effectively, and become independent adults. Parents can address these issues by staying involved your child’s academic and personal life, but not to the point of intrusion. Adolescence is a learning experience for you and your child. Communicate openly and honestly, and the at-risk behavior issues will hopefully be minimal.

For more data and information about YRBSS, please visit the following link.
http://www.cdc.gov/HealthyYouth/data/

By: Clif Deuvall

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Stephen Carter

Stephen Carter is a journalist and information technology specialist living in Waco, Texas. He has been working with the cannabis movement since 2009. He founded Texas Cannabis Report in 2013 to bring Texans accurate cannabis related news.

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