My Turn: Keep teens sober, safe

Posted: Monday, June 14, 2004

There are those who feel as long as the kids are in a "safe place" it should be alright for them to drink. What about the Swiss-cheese effect alcohol has on the teen-age developing brain? Once you give kids the green light, it really translates in their brains as "My parents don't care if I drink" then the where or why becomes irrelevant. Often, even at supervised parties there is no real supervision. What about the date-rape, the sexually transmitted diseases, the burglaries and assaults that take place when our teens end up drinking more than they intended to, or under the all too powerful effect of alcohol? What then? There is no such thing as a safe teen drinking party.

In 2002 there were 280 local minor consuming citations and in 2003 that number had risen to 349. Local law enforcement is cracking down on underage drinking and they are to be thanked for this difficult task. About four years ago there was a group of local adults who felt teen-agers' constitutional rights were being violated when police tried to break up minor consuming parties. There was a time during their lawsuit when a good number of teen-agers were able to openly host and attend underage drinking parties. These few people were successful in making it necessary for police to obtain a warrant before entering a house when underage drinking was occurring. This unfortunate court decision makes it harder to prevent our youth from harm.

Today, it is sad beyond words to observe many of these young adults struggle with alcohol addiction. They have difficulty attending college, holding down a job and/or have alcohol-related court records. We will never know what their true potential could have been. Young people who begin drinking before age 15 are four times more likely to develop alcohol dependence than those who begin drinking at age 21.

A teen-ager needs to deal with the choice made when the bottle is placed to the lips. It's critical, as responsible individuals, that we give our youth the message that underage drinking has consequences and among them are alcohol treatment, loss of driver's license, fines and name publicity.

Name publicity is an issue in our town. As a parent, wouldn't you want to know if their friends were consuming alcohol? Wouldn't you want to know if there was a place that wasn't safe for your teen-age daughter? Do you think your teen-ager is going to tell you that one of their friends is drinking or there's a hangout for illegal parties? If so, I applaud your child for their maturity. Unfortunately it's difficult for many of our youth to talk about this to their parents, especially when it means it might affect their peer relationships.

Our youth are bombarded on a daily basis through advertisements on how alcohol can make them exciting and sexy. No matter how cool you are or how close you are with your kid, these ads are designed by experts to undermine the moral structure you are trying so hard to exhibit. You have to make your message verbal and it needs to be clear.

Parents need all the help we can get - we can't win this one on our own. From an early age, a variety of anti-drinking messages from a variety of people should be poked into their little, growing brains.

I encourage my friends to talk to my kids about the alcohol-related teen tragedies that occurred when they were in school. I applaud the media when they acknowledge the names of minors who chose to consume. This enables me to check if my own are around friends who make healthy choices and support the parents of their friends who made a poor one. I hope our schools will quit handing out champagne flutes for prom. I request the Assembly to provide support for youth who wish to work on underage drinking prevention projects.

MADD is against underage drinking because alcohol destroys, forever, valuable brain cells, including those for learning and decisionmaking. We know today's youth are tomorrow's leaders. Please help us, please help our children, and please help you.

• Cindy Cashen is executive director of the MADD Juneau Chapter.

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