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Parents can be part of teen-drinking problem

by Maggie O'Neill
Appeal Staff Writer
April is Alcohol Awareness Month. Stand Tall Don't Fall, a group of 20-25 CHS students, is attempting to change what they believe is the perception that more students drink than actually do.
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Scott Witter doesn’t go to a party every weekend, but when he does, it’s easy for him to turn down a drink.

“I can say straight-up no,” the 18-year-old said. “I can tell somebody no. I take pride in the work I do. I don’t want the last 10 years of working hard to go to waste. For me, it’s very easy to say no.”

Witter is an athlete. He eats well and works out. He runs track. He shoots hoops. He maintains a positive attitude. He’s confident.

And as a football player at Carson High School, he says the only guys dropping off the team, the ones unable to keep a “commitment,” are those who are distracted, often by partying.

“I have so much to look forward to – to college and to football,” he said. “It’s like my coach says, ‘Drinking is legal at 21. After that age, you can drink for the rest of your life.’ Why rush it?”

Not that Witter has never had a drink, but he’s never been drunk, he said.

“You can go to a party, but you don’t have to drink,” said Witter. “Nobody forces you to. I guess a lot of it is who you hang out with. My friends may not be the most popular at school, but they’re a lot like me.”

Stand Tall Don’t Fall, a group of 20-25 CHS students, is attempting to change what they believe is the perception that more students drink than actually do. Sophomore Lance Medeiros, 15, joined in middle school.

“Stand Tall Don’t Fall is what I believe,” he said. “I don’t drink anything. I want to put a message out there.”

Stand Tall Don’t Fall students put fliers on doors of homes near the Carson River, where parties might occur, to tell people what to do if they suspect one is going on. They participate in undercover compliance checks with police in which underage students try to buy alcohol, and if served, the server is fined and cited. They ask adults to purchase alcohol for them; if people comply, they are cited or arrested. Several times a year, students hand out drinking information to parents dropping off their children at school.

To promote Alcohol Awareness Month, which is in April, Stand Tall students set up activities in Senator Square during lunch last week and gave out drunk goggles – glasses that simulate intoxication – for students to experience impairment.

“Many offenses that happen are when youth are under the influence,” said Linda Lang, parent coordinator for Stand Tall. “Alcohol use goes beyond just affecting (students’) physical development and their mental development. It leads to other behaviors.”

The biggest drinking issue at Carson High is the perception that all students drink.

“I’ll give you an example,” she said. “On a Monday morning, many of the kids indicate that they go to classes and all they hear about is the kids who went out and drank.

“Because those kids are vocal, and it’s the talk on Monday morning, many of the underclassmen get the perception that all kids drink and they have to drink to be cool also. It’s all a matter of what the kids perceive.”

Witter has heard it, too.

“You’ll usually hear kids talking about getting wasted or getting trashed,” he said.

According to the Youth Risk Behavior Survey given to students every other year, as mandated by the Department of Education, drinking trends in Carson City are improving.

The survey results (see sidebar) show that over the past five years, the number of youth who drank dropped, the number who first used alcohol before age 13 dropped, and the number reporting alcohol use in the past 30 days dropped. The only negative trend was that more teens were receiving alcohol through their parents.

“Since (Stand Tall) has started, the shift in the community has changed from youth acquiring alcohol on their own to parents contributing to minors,” Lang said. “Parents, unlike parents many years ago, are considering having the kids drink at home as safer than allowing them to be out in the community and risk drinking and driving.”

But the message that is being sent through that isn’t good, she said. A recent study by the Department of Health Behavior and Health Education indicates children who receive alcohol from their parents are more likely to use alcohol than children who don’t, because the message is interpreted as approval.

She believes the Carson City community has room to improve by sending out better messages about drinking.

“We have a long way to go in Carson City,” she said. “We do. We still have a lot of people that promote alcohol usage at a lot of events that they may not have to.

“We have to remember that drinking under 21 is illegal. Regardless of what people perceive, or if it’s considered a rite of passage, the bottom line is it’s illegal. That’s the law.”

• Contact reporter Maggie O’Neill at moneill@nevadaappeal.com or 881-1219.

Carson City Youth Risk Behavior Survey

High school youth reporting never drinking alcohol, other that a few sips: 2005: 77.9 percent; 2003: 83.2 percent; 2001: 85 percent

High school youth reporting first alcohol use before age 13: 2005: 30.6 percent; 2003: 27.6 percent; 2001: 32.7 percent

High school youth reporting alcohol use in the past 30 days: 2005: 47.3 percent; 2003: 51 percent; 2001: 61.6 percent

High school youth reporting they usually get alcoholic beverages from home with parental knowledge: 2005: 21.8 percent; 2003: 20.7 percent; 2001: 17.2 percent

– Source: the Youth Risk Behavior Survey