A problem for all ages

Drug and alcohol counselors urge parental leadership to foster healthy lifestyles for youth

January 7, 2006

The Hood River County Commission on Children and Families (HRCCCF) is challenging adults to be good role models during 2006 in their use of alcohol.

Maija Yasui, prevention coordinator, said underage drinking among local youth has been on the rise in recent years. And that, she said, could lead to other social problems, such as an increase in both sexual and criminal activity.

“We need to be getting the message out there that you don’t need to have alcohol at an event to have fun,” said Yasui.

She will spearhead a roundtable discussion on the issue with community, youth, and church leaders from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Feb. 9 at the Gorge Club in the Hood River Inn.

Yasui and Joella Dethman, HRCCCF director, invite all interested individuals to make an appointment to attend by calling Kathy Smith at 386-2500, ext. 3.

They plan to take input from the gathering and use it in a campaign to promote alcohol-free family events.

“We need to be asking what kind of a community we want to grow our kids in,” said Yasui. “What we’re looking at in this whole piece is truth and myth. We want to help parents understand how much their kids are bombarded with sex and alcohol in the media.”

She is concerned that 48 percent of 11th grade boys and 40 percent of 11th grade girls reported using alcohol within the past 30 days on a recent survey. Or that 21 percent of eighth grade boys and 37 percent of girls admitted to drinking within that same time period.

“Wouldn’t it be great if we could show our kids that you can have a good time without alcohol?” asked Yasui.

With that goal in mind, she plans to ask the Hood River City Council to regulate open consumption of alcohol during First Friday celebrations.

Yasui believes the monthly outing in the downtown blocks should not turn into a street party — or it should not be marketed for the entire family. Although the council has opted not to prohibit alcoholic drinks from being carried around, Yasui believes the law needs to be given another look.

She said many businesses are now self-regulating on the amount of alcohol they serve during First Friday. However, she said the ordinance would encourage drinking be kept in the pubs and not on the street. And that, said Yasui, could prevent the city from incurring any liability if a problem arose.

Yasui also questioned why a children’s play area was set up next to the beer garden at the annual Hops Fest that took place downtown in October.

“I don’t care if an adult has a drink, but why have it at an event that is being advertised to include the entire family?” Yasui asked.

Her concern is that children are being taught — via television and through adult example — that social outings have to include alcohol. And she would like to see more teenagers and their parents coming forward to publicly address how they have fun without imbibing.

“We have a lot of kids who are drinking to get drunk; they are not drinking to relax at the end of an evening,” said Yasui.

The Hood River Community Justice Department handled 63 cases last year involving drinking among the 13-17 age group.

“I think the bottom line is awareness. You need to be aware of what your kids are doing and how your actions have an impact on them,” said Michelle Hughes, juvenile counselor supervisor.

Hood River County Sheriff Capt. Jim Tomson said minors who drink often don’t have the maturity to restrain their impulses. So, they end up in some kind of trouble that would not have happened if they had been sober.

“They don’t have the experience to know their limits – or limitations,” he said.

In fact, state statistics show that teenage girls who are heavy drinkers are five times more likely than non-drinkers to engage in unprotected sex. And that, said Yasui, can up the odds of unwanted pregnancies and sexually transmitted infections.

Yasui doesn’t believe that parents should encourage their teenager to party at home — even if the excuse is that they are safer because they are not driving. Instead of exposing a son or daughter to an activity that could lead to devastating consequences, Yasui contends that children should be engaged in more proactive pursuits.

On her desk are photos downloaded from a popular Web site for youth that features a father guzzling alcohol poured down a beer bong by his underage son.

Yasui said that parents who throw drinking parties for a group of minors are breaking the law — and encouraging youth to do the same. Plus, they could incur liability if a problem arises, such as alcohol poisoning or an intoxicated young driver later getting into an accident.

“Parents have one of the strongest influences on their child’s behavior, whether positively or negatively,” said Dethman.

Yasui said many Americans appear to be under a misconception that European youth are handling their liquor with less trouble. She said the argument that these cultures teach them to drink moderately from an early age is not correct.

In fact, she said data collected from 15- and 16-year-olds in 35 European countries shows higher intoxication rates than in the United States.

According to the Pacific Institute for Research and Evaluation (PIRE) in Berkeley, Calif., the rate of binge drinking (five or more servings in a row) was higher in every country except predominately Islamic Turkey.

The nonprofit public health research institute found that 22 percent of teens in the U.S. admitted to binge drinking in the past 30 days, compared to 60 percent in Denmark, 57 percent in Germany, 54 percent in Britain, 34 percent in Italy and 28 percent in France.

The survey revealed that intoxication rates in the last 30 days for U.S. teens was 18 percent, significantly lower than 61 percent in Denmark, 53 percent in Ireland, 48 percent in Austria and 46 percent in Britain.

But the most frightening thing to Yasui and Dethman is that alcohol is often the “gateway” to hard drugs such as methamphetamine, cocaine or heroin.

“We really need to get the majority of our teens who are not drinking to feel free to speak up – and adults are going to have to lead the way,” Yasui said.

She encourages anyone who agrees or disagrees with her stand to attend the Feb. 9 forum. Or call her desk directly at 386-3335.

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