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Study Finds Westport Girls More Likely to Abuse Substances

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Suniya Luthar, Columbia University psychology researcher, presents her most recent findings of a study on Westport teens. (CLICK TO ENLARGE) Jennifer Connic for WestportNow.com
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Westport parents heard today that their children may be more likely to abuse substances and be depressed, especially if they are girls.

Suniya Luthar, Columbia University psychology researcher, presented her findings about a study she has been completing of Westport children, specifically the Staples High School Class of 2005.

Luthar has been surveying the group since they were in sixth grade, and she said she is continuing to survey them.

Her study shows that students—especially girls—are more likely to abuse substances than the normal, national average.

“Something about girls in affluent communities means they are more likely to use drugs and alcohol,” she said. “It’s sobering data to me.”

Parents think that “kids will be kids” and experiment, but there is evidence now that using alcohol and drugs can cause problems with brain activity if used too much by an adolescent, Luthar said.

And the teens do not view their parents as disciplinarians when it comes to using alcohol and drugs, she said.

“They think you are more tolerant of substance abuse than anything else,” she said. “They have to ask if they think their parents will freak out. It’s one variable that will make a difference.”

Parents need to set a level of high punishment for substance abuse in order to keep teens from doing too much of it, she said.

“They’re probably going to do it any way,” Luthar said. “If you set the bar high, they will only go higher.”

Teens—especially girls—are more likely to break rules, but girls are also more depressed and anxious, she said.

The teens are competing with their best friends for the top schools or other academic honors, Luthar said, and it’s hard to stay close with a friend in that situation.

The data shows teens become more depressed and anxious in 11th and 12th grades, she said, which is when they are applying for schools and taking the SATs.

Parents’ expectations of girls and boys is also different, she said.

Girls need to be left alone more by their parents, but boys need more involved parents, she said.

“You need to lay off the girls and stay on top of the boys,” she said.

Luthar’s talk was sponsored in part by the Westport School District, and her computer presentation will be placed on the school Web site in the next few days.

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