Join the discussion

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

This coming Monday, citizens in the Cassville area will have the opportunity to join an important discussion about an issue that plagues this community as well as others across the United States. A "Start Talking Before They Start Drinking" town hall meeting will be held from 7 to 9 p.m. on Monday, March 31 in the Cassville High School commons area, and we urge all concerned citizens to attend.

Monday night's town hall meeting will focus on the issue of underage drinking and how the community can combat the problem in a proactive manner. Knowledge is power and holding a town hall meeting on the topic is another step toward educating citizens about the issue of underage drinking.

Statistics prove that underage drinking is a problem. In the United States, the average age of first use of alcohol is 10 to 11, and in the Cassville area, the average age of first use is 8 to 10 years old. By the time a teen reaches the age of 15, there's a 50 percent chance they have tried alcohol. By the age of 17, the percentage of teens who say they've tried alcohol increases to 70 percent.

Another sobering statistic is the fact that the vast majority of local teenagers who drink say they get their alcohol from parents or older friends and siblings. This is an alarming fact that can be controlled if more adults get involved in the fight against underage drinking and refuse to be part of supplying liquor to a minor. Right now, there is an effort underway to start a "Safe House" program locally where parents can pledge to join a network of homes where alcohol use by teenagers will not be allowed, condoned or accepted. It's also important that parents who provide alcohol to minors and allow their homes to be the "safe place" to party be prosecuted under Missouri's fairly new "house party" law.

It's also important for adults to realize that drinking does not have to be an accepted rite of passage and that drinking is not a harmless pastime. Research now shows that when young people drink, they tend to binge drink, which is defined as consuming five drinks or more on a single occasion. It's also been shown that early drinking can cause later alcohol problems. Of adults who started drinking before age 15, around 40 percent say they now have signs of alcohol dependence, which is a rate four times higher than those who didn't drink until they were 21.

Monday's town hall meeting will provide a safe place to exchange ideas on the issue of underage drinking and lots of information will be shared with citizens who want to become part of the solution. Research proves that parents in particular can help prevent underage drinking by staying involved in their children's lives. It's also essential that communities begin sending the message that underage drinking is not okay. Next week's town hall meeting is a way citizens can come together to encourage a new attitude toward underage drinking.

The "Start Talking Before They Start Drinking" town hall meeting is another grassroots effort spearheaded by Cassville Community 2000, a local organization that has been working hard to draw attention to the problem of underage drinking and offer young people positive alternatives to the partying lifestyle. Since the organization has become involved in addressing this specific need in our community, we've seen a gradual change in the mindset of some of our local teenagers. It seems like more and more young people are finding the courage to say no to the lure of alcohol and drugs and making positive lifestyle choices.

You may have noticed I used the adjective "gradual" to describe the change that is occurring. Due to the prevalence of alcohol in our society, it's important we don't falter in our mission to educate youngsters about the risks of underage drinking. Next Monday night's meeting presents the perfect opportunity to shed more light on the issue and gives all area citizens the chance to join the discussion.