Orcas Island Prevention Partnership (OIPP), “working together to support a safe and healthy community,” sponsored a Town Hall meeting on teenage drinking on March 31 at the Senior Center. The meeting, called a “Community Conversation,” was held in response to the Surgeon General’s “Call to Action to Prevent and Reduce Underage Drinking.”
The Call to Action (www.surgeongeneral.gov) was published in 2007 and highlights underage alcohol use as a major public health and safety issue. It’s a problem, says the Surgeon General’s office, because “when kids drink, they drink heavily, and underage drinkers are at risk for heavy drinking later in life.”
Results of underage drinking that are borne out by statistics include physical, academic and legal problems, risk of being the perpetrator or victim of physical or sexual assault, judgment impairment, risky sexual behavior, changes in the structure and function of the developing brain and death from vehicle crashes, homicide, suicide and accidents.
OIPP Executive Director Moriah Armstrong opened the meeting by saying that it’s the busy people who get things accomplished, and so OIPP asked a cross-section of community leaders from businesses, youth-serving organizations, faith groups, schools, parents, safety net, county agencies, civic and volunteer groups to lead the conversation on March 31. Sixteen high school students attended the event, and a total of about 80 islanders were present.
Armstrong also noted that there are “tipping points” when a group changes its behavior from that practiced by a small percentage to that practiced by the majority, such as wearing seat belts. Further, Armstrong said that promoting healthy social norms can be a “tipping point” leading to a decline in underage alcohol use.
She noted that, in 2006, 84 percent of Orcas students reported that their family has clear rules about drugs and alcohol use; 95 percent of the students reported there are many choices to participate in sports, clubs and other social activities; 90 percent of the student say that when they are not home, one of their parents knows where they are and who they are with; and 84 percent say they almost always eat dinner with their families.
Table hosts were asked by OIPP to facilitate discussions at each table of about 10 members on four general topics which included concerns regarding underage drinking, possible misconceptions about drinking, cultural messages being sent to youth about alcohol, and strategies to support healthy community norms and continued reduction in youth drinking.
After having discussed each of the four topics, each table articulated its observations to the group at large. Concerns about teenage drinking are:
• Underage drinking has legal, physical and academic consequences
• Drinking impairs brain development
• Alcohol poisoning is caused by underage drinking
• The ease of access to alcohol and the lack of supervision of teens
Misconceptions range from:
• Guys drink more than girls
• My kid doesn’t drink
• Lots of parents let their kids drink at home
• Drinking takes your mind off your problems
• All kids party all the time
• My drinking doesn’t affect anybody else
• As a parent, I don’t have that much impact
Cultural messages noted by meeting participants are:
• You need to drink for a good time
• It’s cool to drink
• Sports equals beer consumption
• The media glamorizes drinking
• Drunkenness is funny
Strategies to reduce underage drinking include:
• Strong support from parents, older siblings and older students
• Connections among community groups and respect and recognition for healthy behaviors, such as students presenting their concerns to the school board
• Support among store owners to identify those who will buy alcohol for underage drinkers
• Providing alcohol-free activities such as athletics, grad night parties, church camps and other events; attending events with a mixed-age group where the message is that you can have fun without alcohol
The significance of community support for kids’ health and having a social norm of healthy behavior for the island was noted by many at the meetings.
As Barbara Kline, Orcas Island Middle/High School Principal quoted one of her teenage students: “It’s not that there’s nothing to do – it’s that some kids choose to do nothing.”
Community members are asked to join OIPP by going to www.spotlightonthepositive.com. Copies of the Surgeon General’s Call to Action are available at www.surgeongeneral.gov or by calling 800-729-6686.