Alicia Garcia has heard stories about high school students keeping alcohol in their lockers and drinking during school hours. And she knows alcohol is more available to her 17-year-old daughter than when she was that age.
“They’re getting to that age where they’re influenced by their friends. I grew up in Mexico. It wasn’t an issue when I was younger,” Garcia said. “It’s important to learn how to communicate and avoid this.”
That’s why Garcia and her daughter, Melissa Rocha, were among about three dozen people who attended a Saturday event called Parent Involvement: A Solution to Underage Drinking at the Hilton Hotel in Salt Lake City. It was the first of a series of mini-conferences geared toward ethnic communities to educate parents and youth about the consequences of underage drinking and to offer solutions and ways to prevent it. The first conference was for the Hispanic Latino community.
“The message we had about underage drinking wasn’t getting out to the ethnic communities,” said Jesse Soriano, interim director for the State Office of Ethnic Affairs.
The conference wasn’t just about minors and alcohol. There were also workshops on teenage pregnancy and gateway drugs.
“Underage drinking leads to other things like violence, crime, teenage pregnancy,” Soriano said. “Alcohol is the root problem.”
The workshop for parents was in Spanish; teens heard the message in their own workshop in English. Marcela Lopez and Teresa Mora, of Communidades Unidas, gave parents statistics and talked about how alcohol can affect the brain of drinkers under the age of 21.
Forty percent of kids who drink before age 15 will be alcohol-dependent, according to ParentsEmpowered.org. Sixty-seven percent of those kids will also try other illicit drugs.
Underage drinking can hinder the development of the brain’s prefrontal area (responsible for good judgment and impulse control) and the hippocampus (involved in learning and memory).
“It’s a serious problem, but the good news is parents are the No. 1 reason why kids don’t drink,” said Art Brown, president of the Utah chapter of Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD). “Adults can stop this. Parents need to be engaged.”
Roderic Land, of Planned Parenthood, gave teens hypothetical situations about alcohol and talked about how alcohol impairs judgment and affects behavior.
“It gave us another perspective,” said Brania Gutierrez, a student at Copper Hills High. “The peer pressure is everywhere. People ditch school and go drink. I learned about setting my limits.”
Doug Murakami, alcohol education director for the Department of Alcoholic Beverage control, said tailoring the conferences to certain communities with native speakers who interact with kids and parents should be more effective.
“We’re in our second year in this campaign and last year, we just basically did PSAs on Spanish radio and other media outlets,” Murakami said. “But we realized that the way to change behavior is to reach out to the communities. We wanted more of a grass-roots approach.”