Wendy Penner, far right, listens to pediatrician Dr. Jen DeGrenier at a recent news conference to announce the results of the recent student health surveys regarding underage substance use and abuse.

Parents Sought for Substance Abuse Focus Groups

By Rebecca Dravis
iBerkshires Staff
02:37AM / Friday, June 09, 2017

NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — The Northern Berkshire Community Coalition is looking for parents of children ages 9 to 14 to participate in focus groups aimed at identifying best ways to communicate information about underage substance abuse to parents.

Two focus groups are being held: 6 p.m. Wednesday, June 14, and at noon Thursday, June 15. Both groups will be held at the coalition offices at 61 Main St. and will include child care and food. Participants also will receive a $25 gift card for gas or groceries. Register online here and/or take a short online survey here.

Wendy Penner, the director of Prevention and Wellness at the Coalition, said the idea for the focus groups came from work the coalition has done with Communicate Health, a health education and communication firm, as it builds its public awareness campaign about the dangers of underage drug and alcohol use and abuse.

"It will really help us understand what an effective message will be," Penner said.

Penner said these narrow focus groups are only the first step in creating strategies to support parents, whose influence on their children's experimentation with drugs and alcohol is perhaps greater than they realize. And data from the recently completed student health survey shows that Northern Berkshire children in eighth, 10th and 12th grades believe at higher rates than the national average that their parents have "favorable" attitudes about adolescent drug and alcohol abuse.

"Parents here are less likely to view it as wrong," Penner said — or at least, that's how the kids are perceiving it through either a lack of communication or sending mixed messages through their own substance use. "Kids might be drawing their own conclusions. … You're actually communicating something to your child through your choices."

The focus groups will help the coalition narrow down how to meet Northern Berkshire parents where they are — be it fliers at school, or slides before movies, or social media strategies. Penner said she hopes to have between 10 and 15 parents at each session, the sessions will be completely confidential and each session will last about 90 minutes.

"Parents are so incredibly busy," she said, and that's why she hopes to get feedback from parents themselves on how best to get them the information they need. "How do we communicate in a meaningful way to parents? How do you penetrate through all the other things?"


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