What happens in Rhode Island -- or around the nation -- when the teenage son or daughter of a politician, celebrity or other public figure gets caught red-handed breaking a law related to alcohol? The “story” hits the front pages of local newspapers and tops the local evening news. We hear from police, lawyers, judges, and maybe from an authority on underage drinking. The story lingers for a few days, maybe a bit longer if someone is injured or killed, and then it seems to quickly fade away, out of sight, out of mind.
However, the problem of underage drinking remains and, unfortunately, it’s not likely to get widespread public attention until the next high-profile case hits the headlines. The Tiverton Prevention Coalition suggests the following “prevention lessons” the Tiverton community can learn from high-profile underage drinking cases.
Prevention is not about Gotcha. Certainly, enacting and enforcing strict laws and ordinances against underage drinking and providing alcohol to minors are critical components of any prevention program, but prevention must go beyond enforcement. Most prevention strategies are not punitive. They support healthy child development by giving kids the information and skills they need to make healthful decisions about alcohol and drugs.
Prevention is a 24/7 mindset, not a 24-hour news cycle. Science tells us that the adolescent brain is wired to take risks but the brain’s decision making skills are not fully developed. Peer pressure, easy access to alcohol and its glamorization by the media intensifies the risk. Just as we keep a close eye on toddlers to reduce the risks they face when they start to explore their surroundings, we need to be mindful of the risks related to alcohol and drugs that our teens face every day.
Prevention is an individual and community responsibility. Parents, teachers, clergy, physicians, coaches, youth workers, liquor license holders, police departments and town governments all share the responsibility of creating an environment where teens recognize and avoid the risks of underage drinking. The community has to accept its ongoing responsibility to provide a safe, nurturing environment for our children – not just in the aftermath of a high-profile case. That responsibility begins when we accept the fact that underage drinking is not inevitable, if we all do our part.