Campaign to stop underage drinking targets parents (5/6/10)

May 6, 2010

By Stephanie Choate

Observer staff

Parents of teens are taking center stage in a statewide campaign against underage drinking, launched last month.

“Studies have shown that parents have the biggest influence on their kids’ decision on whether to use alcohol or not,” said Kate Wheeler, interim program coordinator for Connecting Youth, or CY. “It’s kind of empowering parents.”

The Vermont Department of Health has partnered with CY, along with nearly 30 other community coalitions, to help parents learn how and when to talk to teens about drinking.

CY, a local organization that works to create a safe environment for young people, is coordinating the efforts in the Chittenden South Supervisory Union.

The group’s goal is to raise awareness about the breadth of the problem, and educate parents about how to deal with it.

“We’re helping parents learn how to prevent underage drinking,” said Barbara Cimaglio, deputy commissioner for state alcohol and drug abuse programs. “We want to encourage parents to get information from the Web site that’s been developed, parentupvt.org, and use that as a tool to talk to their children about the issues of underage drinking.”

According to a 2009 Youth Risk Behavior Survey, a statewide survey conducted every two years, 50 percent of Champlain Valley Union High School seniors said they had an alcoholic beverage in the past 30 days. Survey results showed that 34 percent said they binge drank, or consumed five or more drinks, in the past 30 days.

“We want to give parents some instruction, saying, ‘OK, this is an issue, and this is how you can deal with it,” Wheeler said.

Wheeler said parent education and empowerment will help the group’s long-term goal, which is to reduce underage drinking.

The Web site includes tips on how parents can prevent their kids from drinking, how to recognize warning signs of drinking, and what they can do if they know their teens are drinking. It also outlines several steps parents can take, including setting clear rules, limiting access to alcohol, and not hosting underage parties.

Cimaglio said the state has received “very positive feedback so far” from everyone involved.

This is the second stage of the campaign; the first focused on parents of middle school children.

CY will also sponsor a mock trial at CVU on May 6, illustrating the possible effects of drunk driving. The trial follows a mock car crash that took place in the fall, which simulated a local student causing a crash while driving under the influence of alcohol.

A local judge and medical examiner have volunteered to help out with the performances, set for 8:15 a.m. and 10 a.m. in the CVU auditorium.