Teaching parents to stop teen drinking (10/15/09)

Oct. 15, 2009

By Tim Simard

Observer staff

Shelburne Police Chief Jim Warden thought he’d heard everything. But that was before a Shelburne parent called the police station last spring asking for officers to chaperone a high school graduation party — one that would have alcohol available for teens.

The parent didn’t want the event to get “out of hand,” Warden recalled.

“I told him that he’d better check up on the law,” Warden said. “I said, ‘If you have that party, I’ll have to arrest you.’”

Warden said many parents are under the misconception that it’s legal to give their child an alcoholic beverage in their own home or property. It’s not.

In Vermont, it’s a misdemeanor to furnish underage people with alcohol. Parents can be fined and, in some cases, imprisoned.

Parents need to be educated on that fact, Warden said, and Connecting Youth is looking to spread the word throughout the school year.

Connecting Youth, also known as CY, is a community-based organization that works to create safe and healthy environments for young adults by educating them on the effects of drugs and alcohol. CY is based out of the Chittenden South Supervisory Union, with many students from Champlain Valley Union High School involved.

Dayna Scott, CY coordinator and grants administrator, said the organization’s goal in the coming school year is to dispel what she calls the “myth of inevitability.” Some parents believe teens will inevitably drink alcohol, so they think it’s better if they supervise their consumption.

“Teen drinking is not inevitable,” Scott said. “Parents still have a lot of influence on their teen’s decisions and teens do still need guidance and support.”

CY’s social marketing campaign is geared toward students in grades eight through 12 and is part of a statewide effort to curb underage drinking. Known as the Vermont Strategic Prevention Framework, the state program distributes $2.3 million per year in federal grant money to organizations like CY. Connecting Youth received $120,000 in grant money for the program, Scott said.

Grant recipients can design their own program with approval from the state. Scott said that in talking with local law enforcement agencies across CSSU communities, it was important to target parents in the campaign, not just teens.

In recent years, police have cited teens for underage drinking at many parties in Chittenden County. Elsewhere in Vermont, a teacher in Arlington was arrested for hosting a party at her house where teens were drinking alcohol and doing drugs.

Warden said he’s had problems in the past with house parties where emergency personnel have been called.

“Parents should know they can be held responsible,” said Rachel Carter, a public relations specialist helping with CY’s campaign.

The inevitability myth is an illusion that has been marketed through television and other media, Scott said. In fact, she said while citing a 2007 survey of CSSU students, most teens don’t drink alcohol and parents can help keep it that way. Scott said parents should communicate with their children about alcohol and drugs.

Parents should also be cognizant of how their child views the parents’ own alcohol consumption. Coming home after a stressful day of work and grabbing a glass of wine or beer can send mixed messages to teens. If a parent will be involved in a social event involving alcohol, it might be best to have the party at someone else’s house.

Locking liquor cabinets while parents are on vacation is one way to stop underage drinking parties from occurring.

“We’re talking about people making changes in their behavior,” Scott said. “Parents want to do the right thing and we’re going to help them with that.”

She said parents throughout CSSU will start seeing more information in their local newspapers and community newsletters. Scott hopes police officers in Williston, Hinesburg and Shelburne will contribute opinion pieces to local papers about social hosting laws and how they affect parents and teens. CY will also partner with other organizations and businesses to spread the word, Scott added.

Warden said his department will help CY in any way it can. He said police aren’t out to get parents or teens, but both groups should be aware of the law and adhere to it. He added that his department wants to keep the public safe and stopping parent-hosted drinking parties is part of that.

“At times, you have to be a parent to your kids, not just their friend,” Warden said. id.