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No easy answer to underage drinking

Posted 4/14/10 (Wed)

By Tina Foreman
Farmer Staff Writer

In spite of a low turnout by parents and youth, the McKenzie County Community Coalition’s (MC3) 3rd Town Hall Meeting addressing underage drinking and substance abuse resulted in a new hope of getting a handle on underage drinking.
“There is no good way of presenting McKenzie County’s data on underage drinking,” says Tom Volk, Region 1 Prevention coordinator. “The data that I have comes from youth surveys that were given to youth right here in McKenzie County, and the underage drinking numbers are higher than the state and national average by at least 10 percent, which shows that there is an even bigger problem here than in other areas.”
The two biggest concerns brought up during the meeting were penalties for underage drinking and the permissive attitudes of parents and other adults throughout the county.
“One of the scariest statistics I have seen is that the majority of kids who are binge drinking are doing it every Friday and Saturday night,” adds Volk. “That tells us that they aren’t just experimenting and there really is a problem in this area.”
According to Volk, students reported taking their first drink at the age of eight years old, which means parents need to start talking to their kids in the second grade.
“I’m against underage drinking and I have four kids at home that I am trying to keep away from alcohol. What I see from this meeting is that the wrong people are here. The parents whose kids are drinking and the city leaders aren’t here,” stated Delvin Reeves. “It is very frustrating because I don’t see that there is anything for the kids in this town to do after the sports are done. Maybe the community needs to focus some of its money on the kids instead of the businesses in town.”
Reeves wasn’t alone in his concern of nothing to do. But the majority of the participants felt that no matter what was given to the kids to do, they would still take part in underage drinking because alcohol is readily available and the consequences for underage drinking aren’t there.
“Heavy drinking is so easily accepted that the average student doesn’t think they have a problem, because literally all of their friends are drinking just as much as they are,” says Katie Paulson, Watford City Students Against Destructive Decisions coordinator. “Underage drinking has become the cultural norm at Watford City High School, and maybe Delvin is right. If we had something for the kids to do at least one night a month maybe they would learn that they don’t have to drink to have fun.”
According to the statistics presented by Volk, the majority of people in Watford City feel that underage drinking is just a minor problem. However, local law enforcement see that it is a severe problem with 78 percent of high school students saying that they have had a drink.
“The survey shows that 17 percent of high school students in Watford City have one to two drinks a month which may not seem too alarming to some people,” says Volk. “The alarming part is that 27 percent of the students say they have between three and nine drinks a month and 10 percent say they drink 10 to 19 drinks each month. That is why I’m here. I want to help this community curb underage drinking.”
The biggest complaint Volk heard throughout the night was that most students are not held accountable when they are arrested for drinking, because they are only given a monetary fine and most of their parents pay the fine and the student is back out drinking the next night.
“The police department has zero tolerance for underage drinking,” states Slade Herfindahl, Watford City police chief. “The problem is that alcohol is too readily available to youth, and if citizens want to change that they need to go to their city council or get the city council to a meeting like this. We make the arrest and after that it’s out of our hands.”
One thing that parents and the local law enforcement have in common is their frustration at how underage drinking is handled in court.
According to parents, most youth are given a monetary fine for underage drinking with the thought that it’s not a big deal. The consensus of the group was that if youth had to do community service, cleaning city vehicles, bathrooms, picking up garbage in ditches and along the bike path, they might actually think twice before drinking the next time.
“It takes community and law enforcement support to change things,” adds Volk. “I am here to help, and the law enforcement and community are here showing their support, so even though it will take some time, I know we can change things.”
Anyone interested in helping combat the problem of underage drinking in McKenzie County can contact MC3 through the McKenzie County blog at www.mckenzie.communityblogus.