The percent of teenage drinking in Iceland plummeted from 45% to 5% between 1998 and 2016 by the use of a system wide focus addressing the real problem. One key component was the government giving all parents several hundred dollars in credits to spend on extracurricular activities like Sports, Nature, Arts, Culture, Clubs, Music, and Spirituality (SNACCMS). Other improvements included a reduction of teenager use of marijuana from 17% to 7%, smoking reduced from 23% to 3%, and teenagers spent twice as much time with their parents on weekends.
The program and results were reported in an article by the British online newspaper The Independent titled Iceland knows how to stop teen substance abuse but the rest of the world isn’t listening:
Iceland’s efforts came out of research by the American psychologist Harvey Milkman. The ideas Harvey and Iceland developed together have been incorporated into the evidence-based program Youth in Iceland, and also Youth in Europe where the concepts are being applied at the municipal level. While SNACCMS is a key component, at the heart of the program is an acceptance that children tend to get addicted to something, drugs, eating, cars, money, sex, or whatever. The program focused this common human desire into experiencing natural highs with positive oriented activities, and with additional supporting structures for children, parents and families.
Sports involvement had a negative effect in one Baltic Sea country, because they were run by “young ex-military men who were keen on muscle building drugs, drinking, and smoking.” This outcome is predicted by research that finds SNACCMS programs only function productively if they are built on a foundation of positiveness, respect, and compassion.
Iceland adopted a number of changes as they implemented the program. They did not include drug education, and instead provided life skills training to children, parenting skills training for parents, and encouraged parent-child agreements and provide sample agreement forms. Some of Iceland’s changes have not been adopted in other countries following the same model, such as a ban on alcohol and tobacco advertising and curfews for teenagers. Other jurisdictions offer a variety of other creative ways to address the problems leading to drug use, including free sports, a free ride service for low income families, and hosting parenting groups.
The article identifies challenges U.S. communities face implementing Youth in Iceland type programs, including program funding is based on short term grants.
How can we use this information now? Obviously it would take any community considerable effort to support such a program. Some interested groups could provide components, and parents can individually create their own version of Youth in Iceland.