Keeping Youth Sober

April 17, 2008

Underage drinking focus of event

OGDEN — Jamy Silvis says she will never try alcohol — the smell alone makes her want to throw up.

“I sniffed it once, and it was so gross,” she said. “I don’t know why anyone would want to even start drinking.”

Jamy, a sixth-grader at Freedom Elementary School, was spending the evening with her parents at Underage Drinking Awareness Night. The event, sponsored by Weber Human Services, was held at Fat Cats in Ogden.

The goal was to educate both children and parents about the dangers of alcohol while providing quality-time activities for them to share, such as bowling, eating and playing games.

“Underage drinking is a serious problem in Utah,” said Craig Anderson, prevention specialist for Weber Human Services. “We conducted a survey and asked the students in our region about their alcohol use.”

Anderson said 360 sixth-graders admitted trying alcohol. Forty percent of 12th-graders admitted using, with 11.7 percent of those saying they participated in binge drinking.

“That is alarming enough to us to share with the community,” Anderson said. “Alcohol kills more young people than all other illegal drugs combined. Not only that, but underage drinking can cause irreversible damage to the brain.”

Last year, a statewide campaign was launched to address the issue of underage drinking. Parents Empowered is a response to the U.S. Surgeon General’s call to action against the problem. Anderson said the entire country recently held town meetings to address the issue.

“Research shows that 67 percent of teens who drink before the age of 15 will try other illicit drugs,” Anderson said. “Forty percent will become alcohol dependent.”

Another alarming part of the survey showed that 59 percent of parents were unaware their children drank, Anderson said.

Gary Smith, a counselor at Roosevelt Elementary School, said he wasn’t surprised.

“I held an inhalant-awareness workshop at our school last month. I sent out 580 flyers and advertised for three weeks. I had three parents and nine kids show up,” he said. “Hooray for the parents who gave up some time tonight to come here with their kids. It’s all about prevention and awareness. A lot of people just say, ‘Not my kid,’ but it happens in good families, religious families, every race, every income.”

Anderson told parents to bond with and monitor their children. They should also be given boundaries, he said.

“We are here to raise awareness. We want to help change behaviors, change attitudes and change intentions. All parents should be talking to their children about alcohol by the age of 8.”

Tammy Higginson, of South Weber, attended the event with her daughter, who sits on the government youth council.

“I’m thrilled with the crowd and the age ranges of the children here tonight,” she said. “It’s so important for parents to be connected with their children and to know them and know their friends and know their whereabouts. Parents need to realize just how critical their role is.”

Nicole Delgado, a sixth-grader at Freedom Elementary, said she doesn’t want to have a troubled life. Therefore, she said, she will never drink.

“I want to be able to use my brain, and I don’t want to have a life full of trouble,” she said.

“I’ll never try it. I’d just throw up if I did, anyway.”