Iceland is successfully treating a crisis in teenage drinking. The island nation has one of the lowest rates of teen substance abuse in Europe.
How did Iceland do it?
The country combined local involvement and an increase in music and sports activities for students. The actions have helped shrink a teen culture of smoking and drinking.
One of these actions was the establishment of curfews for teenagers. Now children under 12 are not allowed to be outside after 8 p.m. without parents and those 13 to 16 not past 10 p.m. Over summer, when school is out, the curfew is two hours later.
Parents are involved in enforcing the curfew: Every weekend across Iceland’s capital, Reykjavik, they take a two-hour early nighttime walk around their neighborhood. These “parent patrols” visit teen “hangouts”— places where young people like to meet and spend time together.
“We tell the kids if they are out too late, polite and nice, and then they go home,” said Heidar Atlason, a long-time member of the patrol group.
Reykjavik Mayor Dagur B. Eggertsson said the Icelandic plan “is all about” people giving teens better choices than substance abuse. He believes the large mix of activities that now keeps students busy and interested has very much changed the country’s youth culture.
However, better options cost money. Local areas like Reykjavik have invested in music schools as well as sports and youth centers. To make the programs widely available, parents are offered $500 every year for sports or music programs for their children.
Other countries are paying attention. The Icelandic Centre for Social Research and Analysis has been running the youth project for the past twenty years. The center says it now advises 100 communities in 23 countries, from Finland to Chile, on how to cut teen substance abuse.
“The key to success is to create healthy communities and by that get healthy individuals,” said Inga Dora Sigfusdottir. She is a sociology professor who started the “Youth of Iceland” program, which now has been renamed “Planet Youth.”
The secret, she says, is to keep young people busy and parents involved without talking much about drugs or alcohol.
In 1999, studies showed that 56 percent of Icelandic 16-year-olds drank alcohol. A similar number had tried smoking. Years later, Iceland has the lowest rates for drinking and smoking among the 35 countries measured in the 2015 European School Survey Project on Alcohol and Other Drugs.
On average, 80 percent of European 16-year-olds have tasted alcohol at least once, compared with 35 percent in Iceland, the only country where more than half of those students never drink alcohol. Denmark — another wealthy Northern European country — has the highest rates of teen drinking, along with Greece, Hungary and the Czech Republic, where more than 90 percent have consumed alcohol.
Iceland’s youth are not without troubles. Today’s news stories say rates for anxiety and possible depression have never been higher among Icelandic teenagers. This is especially true for girls, where the rate has doubled in the past ten years. Vaping has replaced tobacco use. About 40 percent of Icelandic 16-year-olds have tried the electronic cigarettes.
I’m Anne Ball.
Words in This Story
polite – adj. having or showing good manners or respect for other people
option – n. the opportunity or ability to choose something or to choose between two or more things
anxiety – n. fear or nervousness about what might happen
depression – n. a state of feeling sad
vaping – n. the action or practice of inhaling and exhaling the vapor produced by an electronic cigarette or similar device