Teens and Alcohol: 'A community problem'

“The word ‘party’ has become synonymous with alcohol — that needs to change,” Spencer Clark, Helena High School senior said at Tuesday night’s town hall meeting.

Clark was one of nearly 300 community members who attended “Teens and Alcohol: A Dangerous Mix,” presented by Youth Connections, a coalition of parents, students, teachers and community organizations working on ways to support teenagers in resisting first use of alcohol, tobacco and other drugs.

Spencer said the social norm needs to be corrected and kids needs to be able to have parties without involving drinking.

Carly Ryan, a freshman at Capital High School, attended the event for two reasons: she thought it would be interesting to hear lot of different opinions on the issue, and to get extra credit in her world cultures class.

Ryan said that in Helena and throughout the state underage drinking is a problem. She has witnessed friends get into trouble because of alcohol consumption and she has learned from their mistakes, she said.

Ryan suggested that countries with a lower drinking age tend to have fewer problems with underage drinking. She also said the rural nature of Montana leaves young people with little to do, which sometimes leads them to experiment with alcohol.

The event aimed to provide an opportunity for local youths, parents and concerned citizens to learn and share information about the impacts of alcohol on young people in the community.

Drenda Carlson, director of Youth Connections, said because the data is clear that in Lewis and Clark County underage alcohol abuse is on the rise. It’s for this reason that the coalition planned the town hall meeting.

Helena teenagers rate among the worst in Montana for underage drinking, and nearly 50 percent of local high school students reported to binge drink in past 30 days, according to Youth Connections.

“We want to get that data out to the community so they’ll see the problem as we see it,” Carlson said. “It’s not a youth problem. It’s not a law enforcement problem. It’s not a parent problem. It’s a community problem. The only way to change that is to bring the community together.”

A panel of leaders held sessions discussing topics in the areas of brain research, legal liability, youth culture, post high school culture, minor in possession and driving under the influence.

Judy Griffith, chemical awareness program coordinator for Helena high schools, said she has been fascinated with brain development for a long time and doesn’t ever get tired of talking about it.

“The notion that (brain development) all happens before the teenage years is wrong,” she said.

Griffith recently spoke to a brain surgeon who told her binge drinking (more than four drinks for a female and five for a male) is brain injury.

“You might as well smack your head with a brick,” she said. “When chemical abuse begins emotional development comes to a stand still.”

Jim Lynch, Montana Department of Transportation director, said people over 21 do have an influence in the decisions of those under 21. He also said more positive opportunities for activities for young people need to be found.

The No. 1 health issue on public campuses today is alcohol abuse, said Mike Franklin, director of counseling services at Carroll College.

“When you get intoxicated your physical and mental abilities become impaired and you say and do things you later regret,” he said.

There a lot of consequences to getting tickets like MIPs, Melissa Broch, assistant county attorney said.

“The time to think about those consequences is before you end up in court,” Broch said.

Kelsey Fanning, CHS senior, led the discussion about youth culture and said the issue is widespread throughout all types of groups of students in the schools.

Pressure to use alcohol comes from three places, Fanning said, media, peer influence and low expectations from adults.

Fanning said the way to reach young people is to have more adult interaction. Others suggested that teenagers are just modeling what they see adults in their lives do.

Fanning urged parents in the room to “pay attention, be active and get involved.”

Those involved with Youth Connections say having this community discussion is just the first step to a prolonged approach and through awareness and community involvement the hope is to change the acceptance that it’s OK for teenagers to drink.

source: Helena Independent Record