Coming together to reduce underage drinking

The 2006 Washington State Healthy Youth Survey shows that most of the 200,000 students surveyed in grades 6, 8, 10 and 12 are making healthy choices and staying away from alcohol, drugs and risky behaviors. That’s good news for everyone. The bad news is that there are still too many kids risking their health and futures with early and heavy use of alcohol.

The Washington State Coalition to Reduce Underage Drinking (RUaD) recently launched a statewide education campaign to let parents and other concerned adults know just how much young people are drinking, and to encourage them to get involved to protect kids. Radio messages inform parents that 13,000 Washington eighth-graders will use alcohol this month, that some kids as young as 13 are regularly getting drunk, and that one in five 10th-graders will have five or more drinks in a row at least once in the next two weeks. Alcohol is by far the biggest problem among Washington’s youth and kills more kids than all other drugs combined.

So what is it that encourages youth to drink? Since 2001, alcohol industry ads on TV have increased 40 percent, and often air when more youth are watching than adults. Kids are, in essence, offered a drink just about everywhere they go in their community: billboards, store displays, the movies, sports events and even county fairs. Children may also learn from adults that alcohol is the only way to relax or have fun at a party.

With all the messages telling kids that it is OK to drink, is there any way to prevent them from drinking? We know that investing in effective prevention programs is working. Since 2000, binge drinking is down by 42 percent among eighth-graders, 15 percent among 10th-graders, and 18 percent among 12th-graders. This means fewer kids are at risk for brain damage, failing in school, having unprotected sex and developing alcoholism.

We also know that reducing a child’s exposure to alcohol marketing and products can make a lasting difference, and that parents play a big role in shaping their children’s attitudes about alcohol. In fact, in national surveys, the primary reason kids give for not drinking is that they don’t want to disappoint their parents. Pre-teens and teens do a good job of hiding it, but they really do want their parents to talk to them about alcohol and enforce clear rules against drinking.

So, it is really up to adults to reduce youth exposure to alcohol. Adults have the power to ask store owners to remove or reduce alcohol signs, to write to community event coordinators and urge them to stop accepting alcohol industry sponsorships, and to take action to stop alcohol promotions and products that appeal to kids.

On Wednesday, April 16, from 7 to 8:30 p.m. in the IMS Library, Communities That Care (CTC) and the MISD Parent Ed Committee invite all parents of children in grades 4-12, particularly parents of middle school youth, to attend a panel discussion with five MI parents and five MI college youth. They will share their experiences of how they successfully navigated the high school years and raised or became well-adjusted young adults who do not have a substance abuse problem. Topics will include strategies for setting reasonable limits and networking with other parents to build a safe community for our youth, as well as insights into peer pressure and substance use in high school. In particular, panelists will share their strategies for staying connected to their teen during these challenging years. Sherry Wong will moderate the discussion. She is a Mercer Island resident and mother who has developed two national curriculums for parenting pre-teens and teenagers. Joining us will be Washington state Representatives Fred Jarrett and Judy Clibborn, along with Mercer Island School board members and City Council members.

Panelists want to address the issues of most interest to the Mercer Island parent community. If you have a burning question that relates to this topic, please send your question to Cindy Goodwin at cynthia.Goodwin@mercergov.org. CTC Town Hall Meeting is supported by RUaD at www.StartTalkingNow.org.

The meetings are a part of a statewide and national initiative — our community will be joined by thousands of Americans across the country, finding local solutions to keeping more kids and communities healthy and safe.

Island resident Liana Montague is a child and family therapist and a Communities That Care board member.

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