Cache County School District Board of Education members expressed an interest in a group that wants to disseminate messages throughout district schools targeting parents as the first tool in preventing underage drinking.
Parents Empowered is a Utah Legislature-funded campaign that aims to prevent underage drinking by reaching out to parents who are, in many cases, the suppliers of alcohol to students. One initiative the group is bringing is the idea to place posters targeting parents that advocate for awareness about alcohol around middle schools and high schools.
“When it comes to substance abuse, Cache Valley has a really low rate across the board,” said David Watkins, a prevention coordinator for the Bear River Health Department. “When we compare it to the rest of the state, we’re at or below the state level.”
Alcohol is also the No. 1 drug of choice among teens, providing reason to reach out to parents so they can prevent abuse from an early age, Watkins said. In the Bear River Health District, an average 4.1 percent of students from grades six through 12 reported drinking in the past 30 days. The state average shows 6.5 percent of students in this demographic reported drinking in that timeframe.
“We try and take multiple approaches, but the No. 1 deterrent for youth to drink is their parents setting boundaries,” Watkins said.
If approved by the board of education, one type of poster would go above drinking fountains in the schools that states, “This is the perfect place to talk to kids about drinking.” It has a check mark next to a picture of a water fountain and an “X” mark over alcohol. Another is designed to go next to the fire extinguishers and says “this is a great place for an object lesson about underage drinking,” Watkins said.
Board President and Bear River Health Department Health Educator Allen Grunig said if this initiative follows through in the district, the idea is to kill two birds with one stone: When parents visit the schools, they will see the district is supporting Parents Empowered, and the messages will reach the studentbody as well.
“I think that parents just have to be aware that for kids under the age of 21, it’s illegal for them to drink, and the parents can’t enable them by drinking with them,” Grunig said. “They have to say, ‘There’s no underage drinking.’ That’s what Parents Empowered tries to do, is make sure the parents understand that they are the No. 1 influence in their children’s lives.”
Health education in the Cache County School District is generally taught before ninth grade. At South Cache 8-9 Center in Hyrum, Barbara Ferris, a health teacher, said she thinks the more information children and parents have on underage drinking, the better choices they will make. Although her class only spends two weeks per term discussing drugs and alcohol, she said she tries to take a new approach to the subject each time. One thing she tries to touch on is how advertisements and music often glamorize alcohol and make it enticing for teenagers to try.
“I want them to know everything they can before they actually get in the situation,” Ferris said. “Knowledge is power. That’s the gist of everything I teach: Some skills, like refusal skills and how to say ‘no’ to their peers and offer alternatives for them to do different things with that behavior. Talking to friends before they go to a party about how to deal with alcohol.”
At the Cache County School District Board of Education meeting towards the end of April, Grunig told Watkins the board would discuss the onset of the posters and invite him back to a future meeting.