Every odd year, the CHCCS school district administers a survey to its stu- dents about risky behaviors. Last year, according to the survey, the trends of alcohol consumption went down from 29 percent to 23 percent, and marijuana use went down from 14 percent to 10 percent.
However, some students questioned the study and whether students had answered truthfully. “There are definitely more [students doing drugs], like that’s not accurate,” said Anna Burgess, CHS sophomore.
In a study published by U.S. News and World Report, 211 teenagers were surveyed and then drug-tested specif- ically for cocaine. 71 of these teenagers tested positive for cocaine, but only two admitted to using it.
“If teens generally lie or underestimate about drug use, then the study results are going to be biased toward under-reporting and too low estimates,” said, Susan Simpson, a marketing research consultant.
Teenagers use drugs. It’s something people have known for a long time, and it’s something people have measured, studied, surveyed and tried to fix for decades. So what does Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools (CHCCS) do about it?
According to U.S. News and World Report, results of surveys—like CHCCS’ risk behavior survey—are used by doctors and other health officials to measure the problem of teen drug abuse. If the problem is under-measured, these surveys become redundant. So how does one know if these surveys are accurate? “To address accuracy of reporting, survey experts believe that over-reporting and under-reporting balance each other out when students inaccurately report information,” said Scarlett Steinert, Director of Healthful Living & Athletics.
This is a theory suggested by many data statisticians: if the response error is random, then the results are accurate, within a margin of error that depends on the amount of people surveyed. However if lying about drug use is simply a characteristic of the demographic under study ― in this case teenagers ― then the results are biased.
For example, if as many teenagers are bragging about using drugs, but are really not using them, then the results will end up being accurate. But if all the teenagers generally lie about their drug use, then the results are biased and will lead to estimates that are too low.
So what makes students lie?
“I think teenagers would lie when asked about their drug use for fear of punish- ment,” said Ryan Deshler, CHS sophomore.
With fear of punishment, the first suggestion is always anonymity, but sometimes the promise of anonymity is not enough.
“Even though you know [the survey] is anonymous, and no one will know who you are, you still might have the urge to lie,” said Anna Burgess, CHS sophomore.
Ultmately, surveys such as those administered by CHCCS are intended to help direct resources to help students. These resources include substance abuse counseling and curricular resources, such as health classes. Researchers may need to explore if teenagers generally lie about drug usage.