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09-30 The straight edge movement and its effect on youth sobriety

The straight edge movement and its effect on youth sobriety

Through a sense of personal identity and a goal-oriented structure, teens who have classified themselves as “straight edge” have also found a healthy lifestyle practice that extends beyond its musical roots.

In the 2012 article, “‘We Sing For Change’: Straight Edge Punk & Social Change,” Francis Stewart, Ph.D., from the University of Stirling defined straight edge as an offshoot collective of punk, a music-based subculture and social movement of its own. Beginning in 1981 with the band Minor Threat and its teenaged front man, Ian MacKaye, the adherence to abstinence exploded from the lyricist’s individual creed to a widely accepted school of thought. Dr. Stewart explained that people who are straight edge, “follow three guidelines: abstinence from alcohol, drugs (including tobacco) and casual sex. These rules are self-enforced or self-regulated, with those who choose to follow them describing themselves as ‘claiming edge’. This is a commitment that is undertaken once and for life, and to break it is irrevocable.”

Ross Haenfler, an associate professor at the University of Mississippi, authored a number of publications in 2004 dedicated to dissecting elements of the straight edge movement. During his time researching at the University of Colorado, Haenfler wrote, “Rethinking Subcultural Resistance: Core Values of the Straight Edge Movement.” He proposed that its primarily adolescent members made a clear separation between individual and collective concepts of resistance and expressed these beliefs in various ways. Haenfler also composed, “Collective Identity in the Straight Edge Movement,” in which he described how the identity associated with being straight edge provided structure, a foundation for commitment and offered additional guidelines for teens to actively participate in, which were previously unavailable to many adolescents at the time.

In a 2014 interview with the Fix, Haenfler added details from his extensive research that broke down many misconceptions about the subculture, including how most straight-edged individuals he observed did not show a tendency for violent behavior. Haenfler maintained his thoughts regarding the culture’s positive effect on youth, “Realizing that I could be ‘cool’ and not drink, that I could have a community that rejected most measures of popularity, was a life-changing moment.”

James Patrick Williams from the University of Tennessee also explored how the community has thrived online in his 2003 dissertation, “The Straightedge Subculture on the Internet: A Case Study.”  Using a combination of observations, e-focus groups, in-depth interviews and qualitative analyses of online bulletin postings, the researcher further supported that although those who identify as straight edge are unified by the group’s homogenized rules, a variety of member types exist. In addition, he concluded that youth who identified as straight edge and used online forums did so to either find meaningful contacts with similar characteristics or to express and organize their authentic self in a coherent manner.

The collection of research shows that the straight edge subculture can influence adolescents to stay away from drugs and other harmful habits while still appealing to their desire for unique, artistic expression. If you or your teen is dealing with a case of pathology or dependency, contact Sovereign Health Rancho San Diego online or call for immediate support for substance-related issues.

Written by Lee Yates, Sovereign Health Group writer

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