Local teens start a conversation on underage drinking, drug use

Local teens start a conversation on underage drinking, drug use

Herald Health CorrespondentApril 23, 2013 

An event focusing on underage drinking and drug use -- the third annual Let's Talk -- will be held April 30 at Pirate City in Bradenton to encourage parents and teens to start a discussion that is sometimes tough to initiate.

Designed by teens, the event also features dinner. Over a family-style meal, conversation will lean toward the subject of alcohol and drugs. High school students in the Manatee County Youth Commission, an organization that is part of the county's Substance Abuse Coalition, will help facilitate the discussions.

To help teens feel safer about talking, they won't be paired with their parents.

Real data

According to the Florida Youth Substance Abuse Survey, in 2010 slightly more than 29 percent of middle through high-school age students in Manatee County said they'd had a drink in the last month on an average of six occasions. About 14.5 percent admitted they had binged by drinking five or more drinks in a row.

To help counteract the trend, teens like Charles Bigby, an 11th grader at Manatee School for the Arts, are in clubs that are doing things like "environmental scans" of grocery and convenience stores for how alcohol and tobacco are presented.

Charles doesn't drink, which he acknowledges is a rarity among teens. As the president of the teen group, the Jack and Jill Club of Pinellas/Manatee, Charles focuses on being a role model for a healthy lifestyle.

"It's very common for teenagers to be using alcohol," said Charles, who prefers to be non-judgmental.

"I try to accept people as they are. But if they want to talk to me, they know they can," he said.

Town hall

In March, Charles was a panel member at the Ninth annual Florida's Kids and Alcohol Town Hall Meeting in St. Petersburg, where students, community leaders and health experts discussed underage drinking, prescription drug abuse and synthetic marijuana use.

Sponsored by the Jack and Jill Club of St. Petersburg/Manatee and public television station WEDU, the event will be broadcast April 25 on WEDU.

Parents who tune in will have an opportunity to learn more about underage drinking.

The discussion includes questions from the audience and information that parents can use in understanding how to talk with their children.

Through the Jack and Jill Club, Charles participates in LiveFree, an anti-drug initiative that is part of a substance abuse coalition in Pinellas.

Charles is a dancer at the arts high school. He does all genres -- recently he was the walrus in the school's "Alice in Wonderland" ballet -- but his favorite style is hip-hop.

Here's why he doesn't give in to peer pressure when it comes to alcohol or drugs: Being an underage drinker or drug user doesn't match up with his career goals.

After high school, he plans to join the military. Right now, he's favoring the Marine Corps. His ultimate goal is to become a police officer.

Next month, he wants to participate in an "environmental scan" of grocery and convenience stores with LiveFree.

For environmental scans, teens are trained to observe and take notes. They don't confront or talk to the manager. Instead, they look for whether regulations are being followed, such as signage that the store won't sell alcohol to minors.

"Youths see things differently," said Christy Hinderliter, community coordinator of LiveFree.

"They see the ping-pong balls next to the beer in the grocery stores to facilitate drinking games. They put that connection together," said Hinderliter, who explains that ping-pong balls are used in the drinking game beer pong.

In Manatee, teens in the Manatee County Youth Commission have been trained for "festival scans." So far, they've scanned five festivals, including the DeSoto Heritage Festival's Seafood Fest, said Jessica Spencer, project director of the youth commission.

What are they looking for? Things like whether vendors are using clear cups vs. red cups (a clear cup shows whether its contents are beer or a soft drink, making it harder for a minor to conceal).

"The next big one is the DeSoto Parade," said Jessica Spencer, project director of the Manatee County Youth Commission, about the festival scans.

Overall findings will be used to create a safe festival guide that will be presented to local policy makers, said Spencer.

There are now about 20 high school students on the youth commission and Spencer is now actively recruiting for more to join the group. Teens who attend a Manatee school are eligible.

Susan Hemmingway, Herald health correspondent, can be reached at shemmingway@hotmail.com.

MORE INFORMATION

What: 2013 Florida's Kids & Alcohol Town Hall Meeting, the forum features a panel of teens and community leaders who talk about underage drinking, prescription drug abuse and peer pressure.

When: 9 p.m. April 25 on public television station WEDU

What: Third annual Let's Talk Event

When: 6:30-9:30 p.m. April 30

Where: Pirate City, 1701 27th St. E., Bradenton.

Details: Adults and youth will be able to sit down for a family-style meal and facilitated discussion about drugs and alcohol. Guest speaker will be John Templeton Jr., who killed an 18-year-old woman in an automobile accident while driving drunk and now devotes his life to crusading against drunk driving. The event is free but space is limited. RSVP to Jessica Spencer at jspencer@drugfreemanatee.org or 941-748-4501, ext. 3483.

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