Designing Bright Spot Solutions For Reducing Teen Drug Use

Iceland used to have the worst teenagers in Europe: smoking, drinking, getting high, staying out late. What’s a country to do? Instead of complaining about “kids these days,” Icelanders looked for bright spot solutions for reducing teen drug use and then found ways to scale those solutions.

As described in a World Economic Forum report:

“Today, Iceland tops the European table for the cleanest-living teens. The percentage of 15- and 16-year-olds who had been drunk in the previous month plummeted from 42 percent in 1998 to 5 percent in 2016. The percentage who have ever used cannabis is down from 17 percent to 7 percent. Those smoking cigarettes every day fell from 23 percent to just 3 percent.”

Hard evidence on how to reduce teen drug use

Iceland got these results by starting with a simple question: What’s different about kids who don’t get in trouble? They found that these kids shared several traits, such as

  • Their parents spent more time with them.
  • They participated in organized activities outside of school.
  • They didn’t go out late at night.

Scaling Interventions for Reducing Teen Drug Use

In response, Icelandic officials built multiple approaches based on the evidence from these bright spots.

  • Parents were encouraged to spend more total time with their kids instead of thinking they could rely on “quality time.” The number of teens spending time with their parents on weekdays doubled.
  • Officials introduced more activity clubs for teenagers. Clubs supported the teen’s social nature. The country gave families more than $250 per child per year to pay for activities. The number of teens participating in sports four times a week rose to 42 percent.
  • Laws about teens buying alcohol and tobacco and staying out late were tightened. The number of teens reporting they’d been drunk in the past month dropped by 90 percent.

Here in the US, summer vacation is rapidly approaching. Kids say they like it, but summer vacation for many can feel like Iceland: a barren rock in the middle of an ocean with nothing of interest to do. We could learn from Iceland’s bright spot approach to helping teens.

To be fair, the US has plenty of counties that are bigger than Iceland. Scaling any solution to such a large country would be a challenge. But communities could start finding and scaling their own bright spots.

(Image courtesy of WikiMedia)

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