Braving torrential downpours, community members from Clarke and Frederick County gathered at the youth center in Winchester for a town hall meeting on underage drinking sponsored by Community and Law Enforcement Against Narcotics (CLEAN). The mission of CLEAN, Inc. is to provide leadership through education, advocacy, and networking for a safe, healthy, drug-free community. To that end leaders from Clean and law enforcement stood before the audience and painted a picture of the environment teens and parents face in the fight to prevent underage drinking today.
Executive Director of Clean Inc., Katherine Bronson started the evening with some startling statistics regarding teen drinking. 72% of High School students have used alcohol. 24% of high school students have partaken in incidents where they had 5 drinks in a row, and 37% of 8th grade students have tried alcohol. These numbers set the tone for an examination of the problem that covered topics ranging from the dangers of binge drinking to alcohol poisoning. The presentation also helped identify warning signs for parents. Beyond the statistics however, the message from all the speakers was that engagement is the key. Ms. Bronson said, “Parents need to engage their children in discussions about alcohol, not lecture them.” The perspective was quite clearly stated as, “You can’t be your kid’s friend you need to be their parent.”
The other key front in the fight against teen drinking is the perspective of parents and other adults that it is alright if it is done “safely.” Kevin Sanzenbacher, Chief of Police in Winchester, spoke at length about the misguided perspective of some adults who try to provide alcohol to teens thinking they can provide a safe environment for kids to use alcohol. He gave three very poignant reasons stating, “Number one, it’s illegal, number two, it’s illegal, and number three, IT’S ILLEGAL.”
Chief Sanzenbacher characterized some people’s perspective that they will take all the kids keys and make sure they are “safe”as misguided. “The problem these people encounter are cell phones. Kids start taking pictures and sending them to each other and they are not sending them to kids at the party, they are sending them to kids who aren’t at the party.” This can lead to a 911 call about an illegal party and parents will be held responsible for contributing to the delinquency of minors. Chief Sanzenbacher said, “What you call group photos, we call evidence.”
Judge William Sharp also spoke at the meeting and cited an incident in Albemarle County where a couple decided to have one such party for teens and ended up spending 27 months in jail after being convicted of 9 counts of contributing to the delinquency of minors. Judge Sharp offered the back story to the incident as well. Apparently the year before the incident a similar party was held that resulted in an alcohol related death. That historical precedent in the town lead the judge to seek the maximum penalty against the parents. “The message is clear,” stated Judge Sharp, “it is not alright for our kids to drink.”
The meeting opened up to discussion and several people voiced concerns over the tendency of parents and officials to turn a blind eye to parties and other situations where teens get access to alcohol. Law enforcement and councilors offered strategies and advice for dealing with this kind of apathy.
“If you become aware of a party call the department and we will intercept the party,” said Chief Sanzenbacher. He went on to explain the process for dealing with illegal parties and stated that calls can be made anonymously.
Audience members also suggested investing in PSA commercials for television warning parents of the consequences of enabling underage drinking.
CLEAN offers workshops, trainings, public speaking, consultation services, and education to schools and community-based programs. Additional town hall meetings are planned for topics like teen pregnancy and emergent issues in teen substance abuse. For more information visit www.cleaninc.org.