Your kids are (still) drinking


April 21st, 2011

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Omaha, NE – Parents are being encouraged to talk to their kids about drinking today. April 21st has been declared Power Talk Day. But after all the talking and all the statistics… are teens getting the message?

“We’re typical teenagers, we drink on the weekends.”

Standing in a dark alley, several hundred yards away from a high school football game, I approached a group of teens hanging out, waiting to be picked up to go party and drink. While they were hesitant to talk candidly at first, after they were assured of their confidentiality, they opened up.

“Well, somebody really close to me got me intro drinking,” said a 17-year-old girl, who used the name “Kay.” “I won’t say who it was, but the first time I ever got drunk, I was like ten.”

A second teen of the same age, who we’ll call “Kelly,” jumped in. “Yeah, that’s how old I was, because my brother and all his friends, like when my parents would be gone, they’d always be at our house and stuff.”

In a 2008 series, Your Kids are Drinking, a group of teens spoke candidly about how much they drink, where they get it from, and when they took their first sip.

I spoke to the teens in the fall a couple years back for a series of reports on underage drinking for NET News, called Your Kids Are Drinking. The problem was reported on again with a follow-up series, which aired here on KVNO, called Binge. But the problem continues on, and the statistics of young drinkers don’t seem to be changing.

“The Surgeon General’s report shows that by age 15, more than half of teens have not only had a few sips of alcohol, but a whole drink,” said Governor Dave Heineman at a press conference Wednesday with his wife Sally Ganem. Heineman announced the U.S. Senate has decreed April 21st as national Power Talk Day – a day for parents start the conversation with their kids about staying away from alcohol.

“Very few parents believe their children are binge drinkers,” Heineman said, “but Nebraska high schools report binge drinking rates at higher than the national average.”

“If people understood the dangers of alcohol to a young mind,” Ganem added, “I mean they wouldn’t even think of allowing their child to have a drink of alcohol. It’s amazing, there’s just too much science out there at this point.”

Sally Ganem sits on the national board of MADD – Mothers Against Drunk Driving. She said parents underestimate the power they have to influence their kids. They need to start talking to them about alcohol, she said, and they need to start young. Ganem said 40 percent of people who start drinking as a young teen become alcohol-dependent later in life.

"Power Talk Day" is an effort to encourage parents to talk to their kids about drinking, and to do it while they're young.

“Alcohol impedes the growth of that brain, or stops the growth of that part of the brain,” Ganem said. “At 16, a child’s brain is only half developed. And so we need to give it that chance without the chemicals, without the drugs, and without the alcohol.”

Back outside the football game, the teens I talked to said they recognized the dangers of alcohol, but said the ones who “can’t handle it” are the ones at risk.

“ I’m not saying we’re all mature enough,” “Kelly” said, “We’re still teenagers, we’re not completely mature… but if you can handle it I think it’s fine.”

“We only have a couple more years before we can buy our own alcohol,” “Kay” added, “So why try stop us now?”

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