Monday night's town hall meeting was the start of finding a community-driven solution to the age-old problem of underage drinking. We would have liked to see more parents in attendance but we did appreciate those who did take time out of their busy schedules to participate. In particular, we noticed that the meeting was well attended by many of our area elected officials, including Barry County Presiding Commissioner Cherry Warren, Southern Commissioner Eddie Davison, Barry County Prosecutor Johnnie Cox, Barry County Sheriff Mick Epperly, Barry County Coroner Skip White, City Alderman Herb Primrose and Cassville Police Chief Lonnie McCullough. Their support of this issue is of essential importance if we hope to change community norms.
The five panelists, who included Probation and Parole Officer Nancy Foulke, Missouri Liquor Control Supervisor Joe Hodgins, Capt. Dana Kammerlohr, Missouri State Highway Patrol Trooper Les Wilson and Dr. Heidi Henderson, were well prepared and offered vital information about the problem of underage drinking and shared their personal experiences in dealing with situations that arise from substance abuse. Each speaker revealed their personal commitment to combatting the problem of underage drinking, and their passion for the subject was undeniable. It is very encouraging to realize we have people working in various capacities in our community who truly care about our young people and are willing to become part of the solution.
One of the key community attitudes that must change is the thought that underage drinking is just a rite of passage for our teenagers. Some parents falsely believe that "boys will be boys" and "girls will be girls" and a little drinking doesn't really hurt anything especially if it occurs in a "safe" environment. This attitude is extremely dangerous. Underage drinking is never safe and the most recent statistics show us that young people are drinking earlier, drinking more and engaging in more risky behavior. The latest medical research has also proven that underage drinking is more serious than we ever knew. New research proves that the human brain is not fully developed until the mid-20s and that teens who drink can shrink their brain capacity by 10 percent. With that research and those statistics how can any adult condone underage drinking and get a wink of sleep at night?
Panelists also drove home the fact that underage drinking is just the first step down a dangerous path that often leads to drug abuse, alcohol dependance, criminal activity and even death. Alcohol is a gateway drug and the majority of the crimes that occur in Barry County are linked to alcohol and drug abuse. Teens are also 50 percent more likely to become the victim of a fatal car crash or physical and sexual assault if they are drinking. Each panelist also urged parents to get involved in their children's lives and lead by example rather than empty words. "Be a leader, set the example," said Trooper Wilson. "Not by hiding it (drinking) but by not doing it. We have to lead by example." Capt. Kammerlohr also had an important message for parents about their intended role in their children's lives. "Parents be their friend, but be their parent" was the DARE officer's simple message.
Although there is a lot of talk about peer pressure, it's important to note that when kids were surveyed about influences in their life, parents and adults were at the top of the list. A parent's disapproval of underage drinking goes a long way toward influencing a teenager's decision to refrain fromdrinking, but sadly enough, local parents don't always send that message. According to a survey conducted locally by Cassville Community 2000, 18 percent of the adults surveyed think it's okay for kids to drink alcohol and 28 percent think its okay for kids to drink with parental supervision. This statistic is astounding and reveals that the majority of adults in this community have some work to do to change those attitudes and protect our children from negative influences.
We want to thank each of the panelists for their willingness to speak at the town hall meeting and we applaud Kati Rose, Michele Holenda, Elaine Boles and the teenage members of Cassville's Youth Advisory Board and SADD Chapter for their role in organizing this important event. For those who don't know what Community 2000 does in our community and who did not attend Monday's meeting, they missed out on a perfect example of what this worthwhile organization is accomplishing. Their work is essential to finding a solution to the problem of underage drinking and we have personally witnessed the impact they are having among many of our area teenagers.
Community 2000, the Youth Advisory Board, SADD and those who participated in Monday night's town hall meeting should be commended for taking a stand for what's right. When combatting any community issue, we have to start somewhere and hopefully holding a community-wide meeting on the problem of underage drinking is a good starting point.