April 22, 2009

Meeting on underage drinking sees low attendance but good ideas

By Tina Foreman
Farmer Staff Writer

The McKenzie County Community Coalition’s (MC3) 2nd Town Hall Meeting addressing underage drinking and substance abuse resulted in new action ideas despite a low turnout.
“I went to a class once and they told us that you don’t have a teenage drinking problem, you have a parent problem,” says Watford City Police Chief Daryl Vance. “Most of the kids that are drinking have parents who don’t care or don’t pay attention.”
Many parents in McKenzie County would disagree with Vance, but the attendance at the Town Hall Meeting was a great indicator that Vance is correct. Among the MC3 members and city officials there was only one parent who attended the meeting. She also brought her daughter and was very surprised that there were not more parents and teenagers at the meeting.
“A lot of teenagers are taught by their parents that it is okay to drink,” says Vance. “The message kids are receiving from their parents is that it’s not okay to get caught.”
The two biggest concerns brought up during the meeting were penalties for underage drinking and parental awareness.
“There are parents who knowingly allow their kids to drink and some who even buy the alcohol for their kids,” says Mayor Kent Pelton. “I think there should be stiffer penalties for the parents and I also think it is good when teen arrests get publicized because it brings awareness to parents.”
Pelton wasn’t alone in his thoughts. Several other members of the meeting agreed with his statement and questioned the penalties for both kids and parents in underage drinking cases.
 “What I hear from the kids is that there is still a large number of kids partaking in underage drinking because the parents condone it or look the other way,” says Katie Paulson, Students Against Destructive Decisions advisor. “We really need to talk to the parents and get them involved so they know the risks.”
The group came up with a couple of ways to educate parents including passing out pamphlets at highly attended functions or setting up a booth on underage drinking at these events.
“There comes a point where parents need to be held accountable,” says Monica Liebel, MC3 member. “We need to have stiffer fines for the kids who are getting arrested so that the parents will be affected and in turn get involved.”
Liebel suggested that the coalition and members of the community write letters to judges asking them to give stiffer fines for parents who purchase alcohol for their children and for those who are arrested for underage drinking, smoking or drug use.
“There is a different public perception today than there was 30 years ago,” says Vance. “This town does have a problem with underage drinking, but I do think we are gaining on the problem. It is hard to see because it takes lots of baby steps to combat this problem, but we are heading in the right direction.”