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Teenage Girls, Drinking, and Your Youth Ministry

Teenage Girls, Drinking, and Your Youth Ministry

According to recent data released from an excellent 2009 study, teenage girls are more likely than teenage boys to perceive benefits from drinking or doing drugs.

Here are a few of the bullet points, all of them pretty alarming stuff:

  • Teen girls are more likely than boys to associate "self-medicating" benefits with drinking and getting high.
  • 68% of teenage girls answered positively to the question "using drugs helps kids deal with problems at home," an 11% increase over 2008, significantly higher than the increase in boys (a 2% increase).
  • 53% of teen girls reported that drugs help teens "forget their troubles."
  • Teenage girls' past year marijuana use increased by a dramatic 29% from 2008 to 2009, again, significantly higher than the increase in boys (a 12% increase).
  • Stress was identified as a key factor leading to drinking, smoking and drug use among girls.

As I thought about this research, I thought about the "why's." The research doesn't offer any. It got me thinking, though . . . Culture seems to have teenage girls square in its cross-hairs. We all know what a fixation on beauty and image our society has. The pressure to look good (as the world defines good) is almost overwhelming. It may be that girls see drinking and drugs as offering some release from this pressure. Maybe, maybe not . . . Also, the hyper-sexualization of culture has to take its toll on these girls. With every new superstar (from Britney and Christina to Lady Gaga and Katy Perry) there seems to be an increased emphasis put on girl's identity as wrapped up in the sexual image they project. I think for most teenage girls, the pressure to keep up with our culture's hyper-sexual stereotype of what it means to be a "female" is simply too much. Maybe this contributes to seeing alcohol and drugs as a relsease? Here's what we do know: as youth workers, we need to be watching, listening, and teaching . . .

  • Watch--There are tell-tale signs of drug and alcohol usage. Many students who begin or increase drug and alcohol usage will begin to pull away from your group, feeling the guilt of their actions. When they do come around, a girl or guy who once was accepted by the group might be on the outside. Watch for these signs.
  • Listen--Ask about students you have concerns about. You don't have to ask another student to betray a trust. Listening to what they say, listening to what they don't say, and watching how they say it may reveal a great deal about a struggle another student is facing.
  • Engage--Call me naïve, but I am convinced that if teenagers can grasp how much God values them, and grasp that their identity is found in Christ, the issues that arise as a result of society's emphasis on image and appearance will dissipate. Many of the behavioral issues students deal with are not ills in themselves, but symptoms of the deeper issues of value and identity. Teach your students that they are literally made in God's image (Gen. 1:27), and are therefore valued and valuable; and that who they were is dead, and who they are is literally defined by Christ (Col. 3:3). Address these issues and in many cases the "ills" take care of themselves.

The most important tool you have in your arsenal is the relationship you have with students and their parents. You are in a unique position to affect change. You can't relax. Stay plugged in and you will have a chance to help spot and address some of the damaging behaviors raised in this study and others like it.

Share your thoughts with the youthministry360 community:

  • Have you noticed any evidence that supports this trend? Have you seen girls becoming more involved in drugs and alcohol over the last few years?
  • What are your thoughts on potential causes? And what can youth workers do to address them?
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