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Posted 4/21/10 (Wed)

By Neal A. Shipman
Farmer Editor

Does the Watford City area have a drinking problem when it comes to underage drinking? The answer to that question would probably depend on who you ask.
If you ask some of the parents and teens, the answer would probably be neither a “yes” or a “no” on whether or not there is a drinking problem at Watford City High School. The answer that is most often given is that the underage drinking problem locally is no worse than anywhere else in North Dakota or elsewhere in the country.
But if you ask that same question to other parents and teens, or to law enforcement professionals in the community, or to the people who monitor what is happening in communities across the state, you would probably hear that there is definitely a problem with underage drinking in this community.
The difference in the answers provided by the two groups is as simple as is the question. Some people think that there is nothing wrong with teens drinking during their high school years, while others believe that since it is against the law, it is wrong.
Obviously everyone will readily admit that underage drinking is against the law. We may all have our opinion on whether or not the legal drinking age in North Dakota should be at 21 years of age or if it should be lowered. But since 21 is the legal age to drink, it is against the law.
People can argue or at least agree to disagree when they are discussing whether or not underage drinking is a problem in the community when they are discussing the issue without facts. But when presented with actual data, such as is provided by the At Risk Youth Survey, which is compiled each year from information provided by the students themselves, it is hard to argue with what the students are saying they are doing when it comes to alcohol use.
Consider, if you will, the most recent data, provided by students at Watford City High School that says:
• 78.2 percent of the students at W.C.H.S. have had at least one drink of alcohol during their lives. That compares to 72.3 percent of the high school students statewide.
• 28.5 percent of our students had their first drink of alcohol, other than a few sips, before the age of 13, which compares to 19.9 percent statewide.
• 40.4 percent of our students say they have had five or more drinks in a row on one or more days in the past 30 days. That compares to 30.7 percent  statewide.
• 32.8 percent of the W.C.H.S. student body said that they have ridden in a car one or more times in the past 30 days when the driver had been drinking, which compares to 28.3 percent statewide.
• 17 percent of our students said that they have driven a vehicle at least once in the last 30 days when they had been drinking, which compares to 15.2 percent statewide.
• 40.4 percent of W.C.H.S. students say that they had five or more drinks on three to five days during the past 30 days, which is almost a 10 percent higher figure than the statewide number.
Look at the numbers and do the math and then ask yourself the question, “Do we have a problem with underage drinking in our community?”
The answer is, without question, yes we do. In every category, students at Watford City High School are responding that they are using alcohol more than are their peers in other high schools across the state. And more importantly, as their responses indicate, they are also taking more risks and thus putting themselves, as well as others, in peril because of their use of alcohol.
While it is easy to talk about the problem, it is going to be far harder to get the problem under control. It’s easy for the community to ask our schools and law enforcement agencies to solve the problem. But in reality, while they would like to be able to keep alcohol out of the hands of our youth, by the time they become involved, it’s too late.
So whose job is it to begin solving the problem?
Primarily, it’s the parents’ job. It’s not easy to be the “mean” mom or dad and letting a child know that underage drinking is not an acceptable behavior. And then being willing to punish the child if they do engage in underage drinking.
But it is also the responsibility of the community, as a whole, to change the widespread notion that underage drinking is an acceptable practice. Just as peer pressure among students can change behavior, so can peer pressure from parents begin to change other adults’ attitude towards providing teenagers with alcohol and a place to party.
The numbers show that we are moving in the wrong direction when it comes to underage drinking. It’s time to begin to get serious about the problem.