|Verne Larsen with participants in the teenage drinking seminar.|
A town hall meeting on teenage drinking and understanding its effects was presented at Emery High. The peer helpers group sponsored the event, Lori Huntington welcomed everyone to the meeting and introduced the speakers. Sgt. Gayle Jensen spoke first, he said there are approximately 80 DUI arrests each year in the county. These cases can be both civil and criminal. Anyone operating a vehicle under the age of 21 automatically has their license revoked for these violations. DUIs for those 21 and older can come with enhancements for repeat offenses and prison time.
Sgt. Jensen said, "DUI is something we enforce aggressively. These impaired drivers have caused several deaths in the county over the years. There are 70-80 minor consumption arrests every year. But, we are probably just scratching the surface on teenage drinking. We hear kids talking about drinking parties after they have occurred. It's a bigger problem than the statistics show. Drinking also leads to a lot of our domestic assault cases. Some of the offenders start as youth because they see their parents drink. Some drink because of peer pressure, there are a lot of reasons behind drinking. As the juveniles progress to adults the drinking and problems continue. We aggressively address juvenile drinking. We see several youth after they turn 18 in jail and on probation due to drinking. It's a vicious cycle that's hard to kick. It's hard to do it alone. The kids we see succeed are the ones who have a lot of family support. Parents who impose tighter restrictions when their child is caught drinking are doing the best thing for them, even if the youth doesn't think so at the time," said Sgt. Jensen.
Verne Larsen spoke next he is the education specialist at the Utah State Office of Education. He has been the safe schools specialist for 14 years. Larsen said their focus for underage drinking is on prevention. Alcohol causes more brain damage than any other drug. It is the drug most often associated with poor decisions and costs the most money to use.
Prevention works, stressed Larsen, also community interest, getting help and identifying at-risk youth. Larsen said their goal is to lower the risks for all youth. Students are given surveys in grades 6, 8, 10, and 12. The surveys for 8th graders in Emery County who had ever used alcohol was 32 percent in 2003 and has dropped some. Regular drinkers were 16 percent in 2003 and in 2007 had dropped to 13 percent. The percentage of seniors in 2003 who had drank was 50 percent in 2003 and 48 percent in 2007. Teenagers who drink at least once in 30 days was 25 percent. One fourth of all seniors are regular drinkers. Twelve percent are heavy users. In Emery County the percentage of drinkers is above the Utah average and below the national average.
Larsen said researchers have found the more productive-positive assets a youth has the less likely they are to become involved in alcohol. Of the kids surveyed who have no support 53 percent are involved in alcohol. Those with 31-40 positive assets in their lives only participate in drinking at a rate of 3 percent. The more positive the better for our youth.
|Sgt. Gayle Jensen of the Emery County Sheriff's Office.|
Larsen said, "We need to walk the talk. We need to build connections with youth. We need to hang onto kite strings. 'What you do rings so loudly in my ear I can't hear what you say.' We need to be good role models. We need to see the big picture. Alcohol is the leading cause of brain damage, it causes 230,000 cancer related deaths each year. It affects a teen brain. It affects the plasticity. Brain development occurs as a young child and again while in your teens. The brain develops patterns. Alcohol use interferes with these connections or patterns. Weekend drinkers are still being affected the next week when they are back in school. This is permanent damage. These drinkers develop social problems, they experience failures, they have severe consequences, they become involved in car crashes and they struggle in school.
"Our youth need to be resilient. Everyone gets knocked down, but we must rebound and bounce back and develop confidence. Academics are important. Use your disappointments as stepping stones. Be a positive role model. Do you see opportunities in difficulties? It's all in the attitude. Say to yourself, I am determined to be happy in whatever experience. Part of our happiness or misery depends upon our attitude.
"Alcohol is like a computer virus that messes with the brain. It does something physically to the brain. I sometimes call peer pressure, fear pressure. Our brain is afraid of what others might think and feel about us. If you are in a situation where you feel pressure to drink then get out of there quick. Don't stay in those situations. Use positive peer pressure. Do it right. Pressure kids to do right. Try reverse pressure. Most kids avoid alcohol. It's not cool to use alcohol. Kids can help other kids avoid alcohol. They can help their friends. They can have discussions with parents. They can join youth advocacy groups. Peer helpers are positive pressure.
"Help yourself in helping others. Give of yourself, be there to lend a hand, hang onto kite strings. I'll explain what I mean by hanging onto kite strings. There was a little boy flying a kite with his dad and the kite went higher and higher. 'Dad, what holds it up,' the boy asked. The dad answered it was the kite string. The boy said, 'no the string holds it down.' So the little boy let go of the kite string and the kite came crashing to the ground. The very thing you think is holding you back is keeping your kite up......flying it. Rules aren't made to be broken. Hold onto them, hold onto boundaries. Eat dinner together, it makes a lot of difference. Sit down and have a conversation and don't ever give up. Keep talking. There are problems right in front of your face, but don't give up. Set clear rules and expectations.
"In a study of youth they were asked, 'who influences you most,' the youth listed their parents as being their biggest influence. They were asked why they would or wouldn't drink and they answered their parents have set clear rules against drinking.
"Be consistent, have boundaries. Parental disapproval of underage drinking is the key to kids not drinking," said Larsen.
Larsen encouraged parents to know their childrens' friends and encourage them to spend time in their home so the parents can get to know the friends better.
Larsen encouraged parents to never let an old person take over your body as a parent, "Be enthusiastic, be vibrant, have a sense of humor. "Life is not a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely. Enjoy your ride."
Larsen ended his presentation with the reciting of the poem The Dash. Where he reminded everyone it's the years in between the birth date and the death date that really count. It matters not how much you own, cars, houses, etc. You never know how much time is left, be slow to anger, love people and treat them with respect. Larsen encouraged everyone to spend their dash in helping make a difference in the lives of children and building healthy families.