One dark silhouette said, “No way do I drink, my parents would kill me.” Another said, “No thanks, I need all the brain cells I can get.” But the words attached to a particular cardboard cutout in the Utah County Health and Justice Building brought the problem upfront: “After school is the best time to party.”
There are reasons for the concern over underage drinking, not the least of which is the fact alcohol kills more than six times as many people as all other drugs combined, said Nicole Brereton, prevention specialist for the Utah County Division of Substance Abuse and Prevention.
“Utah as a whole has a serious issue with underage drinking,” said Brian Alba, another prevention specialist. In fact, he said, underage drinking is the No. 1 problem in the nation and in Utah County.
It’s not a problem without a solution, however.
Representatives from the Utah County Division of Substance Abuse and Prevention educated a crowd of about 70 parents, youths and BYU students, in addition to county Comissioner Larry Ellertson, about the power parent-to-teen communication can have in the prevention of underage drinking in a Town Hall Meeting Wednesday night.
“Parents are the number one anti-drug,” Alba said.
Brereton said every child comes with two anti-drinking devices, highlighting parental disapproval as the primary reason kids choose not to drink. Statistics show children whose parents have talked to them about underage drinking are more than 50 percent less likely to drink alcohol at a young age.
Brereton gave parents three guidelines to help them inform and protect children. They include: setting clear rules, monitoring parties and friends, and spending time with children. Then, with a video clip saying, “just keep trying, you’ll get through,” Brereton told parents to never lose hope.
But bringing the issue up in the first place isn’t always easy for parents.
A common mentality that sometimes prevents this communication process from taking place is denial, said Lance Madigan, public information officer for the Utah County Health Department.
“Parents sometimes get the idea that their kid would never do that, so they don’t bring up the idea or discuss it,” he said.
Orem resident Jennifer Roura said parents may be hesitant to talk to their children about sensitive topics, but it’s time to overcome that and teach children how to protect themselves.
“They [these issues] can’t be taboo anymore,” she said.
Additional resources about the prevention of underage drinking are available at www.parentsempowered.org.