Family dinner reduces underage drinking, advocates say

September 24, 2012

Its efforts are measured through risk prevention surveys administered to students in sixth, eighth, 10th and 12th grades. The program has made a difference, according to Doug Murakami, alcohol education director at the DABC. Comparing numbers from recent surveys to those from 2005, officials have “seen the numbers go down.”

Utah’s substance abuse numbers, though, are traditionally among the lowest in the nation, so a notable decrease in substance abuse appears small.

“We’re seeing the trends coming down, but at a very low rate,” Murakami said. “We’re energized by what we’re seeing. We’re reaching out, getting into a community level approach. That’s where the rubber hits the road.”

To see various community groups working together toward a common goal was “really exciting” for him — especially a goal that’s so accessible.

“We want to make sure that everyone knows it’s not rocket science,” Murakami said. “Sometimes it is as simple as getting together around the dinner table, telling stories. Not anything too complex. It’s the little things that really make a difference.”

Brown was called in Monday after Jeanette Herbert, Utah’s first lady and honorary chairwoman for Family Day, reported she wasn’t feeling well. Brown was an eager replacement who smiled almost without pause. But that didn’t mean she took the event, or its message, lightly. A full-time MADD volunteer and lobbyist, she joined the group after her 4-month-old grandson was killed by a drunk driver.

She’ll be the first to tell you that studies show that 95 percent of Utah drivers arrested for driving under the influence also drank while underage. And when she said something was “super important,” like the role of parents, she meant it. Parents need to know just how vital it is to bond, set clear boundaries and monitor their children, she said.

Brown raised her seven children in the Avenues, where they would have “make-your-own-pizza night” every Monday.

“As the kids sat around and rolled out their pizza dough, we had time to talk about the challenges and successes of life,” she said, before imploring others: “Please have dinner with your family. Take time to talk to your kids and set clear goals about not drinking underage to protect their developing brain. … Take time to play and talk and have a fun time together.”

Lisa May, whose four children flanked Brown at the dining table, said her family tries to eat together about five times a week. Sometimes, they make breakfast for dinner. But the meal itself is beside the point.

“It’s a good time to talk about school and their lives, to spend quality time together,” she said. “I just followed the good pattern of my own mom. Then science caught up and I found out it had all these great side benefits.”