Alcohol abuse can damage health, career and family.
But alcohol can be avoided altogether. Those who never start drinking will never have to worry about how to stop.
If parents could just prohibit all teen alcohol use, so many problems would be solved.
Unfortunately, the real world is not that simple.
In Forest Lake, there are resources to help teens with alcohol issues.
And now there’s a new resource to help prevent teen drinking.
Based on the idea that what you know matters, MOST of Us tells kids that, in a typical month, the majority of Forest Lake High School students don’t use alcohol.
Armed with this information, instead of “Everybody’s doing it” and “I don’t want to be different,” a teen can think “Most of us are making good decisions” and “I will, too.”
A survey of Forest Lake high school students found a large difference between the perceived and actual number of teens who use alcohol: Seven out of 10 don’t drink alcohol in a typical month, but students perceive that 8 out of 10 do.
(Reported use of alcohol in the past 30 days is a common measure of recent alcohol use. In Minnesota, it is illegal for a person under age 21 to consume alcohol.)
1,288 students in grades 10 to 12 took the MOST of Us student survey in 2011/2012.
The survey asked students about their use of, and their beliefs about, alcohol, tobacco, and other drugs.
Survey results showed that most FLHS youth are making good decisions and have healthy beliefs about these substances.
The survey also found that many youth drastically over-
estimate the prevalence of alcohol and other drug use among their peers.
This over-estimating may make teens more likely to drink and use drugs themselves. “Misperception is a risk factor for use,” said Rose Hauge, DFC grant coordinator and member of the MOST of Us community team.
Data about actual use can be a weapon to correct misperceptions teens have about their peers.
“That’s the idea behind this,” said Kathy Bystrom of the Fairview Lakes Medical Center community health outreach program and another team member. “Their misperception is an unwritten peer pressure for kids. If they can walk in with the facts, knowing that most kids are not drinking, it’s empowering,” she said.
Team member Matt Howard, Youth Service Bureau community justice program manager, agreed. Howard said the average teen is not influenced by external pressure, even being at a party where people are drinking.
“The actual pressure is internal; it’s self-imposed,” he said. “We want to add a protective factor of actual fact.”
At the program kick-off last year, students were given bagels and MOST of Us lanyards.
This year the official campaign launch will be Nov. 16.
Students will retake the survey in February.
The campaign is also aimed at parents.
The topic was included at tenth grade orientation, where many parents expressed support for this positive approach.
Parents are encouraged to know where their children are going, calling beforehand to be sure there will be adult supervision. “We need to empower parents to stand together, shoulder to shoulder,” Bystrom said.
Adults who host parties where teens are allowed to drink are part of the problem. Team member Ashley LaValle, crime prevention detective for the Forest Lake police department, said “Parents tell me, ‘We want to give kids a safe place to drink.’”
MOST of Us targets parents with a fact to challenge their perception of how prevalent this is: 91 percent of Forest Lake High School parents do not let teens drink alcohol at their homes.
Hauge explained, “When someone says, ‘I want to have a party on your 5 acres and invite kids to drink,’ knowing about that 91 percent could be the tipping point for them to reply, ‘Are you crazy? No way.’”
Forest Lake’s Social Host Ordinance makes it a crime, punishable by a fine and jail time, for adults to serve alcohol to teens.
In addition to targeting students and parents, the MOST of Us team is reaching out to local service groups and businesses.
A presentation on the MOST of Us program will be given to the Lions in November and to local parish nurses in January. The chamber of commerce is also on the list.
“One of the goals of this group is to spread the word,” Bystrom said. “We need faith community partners, business partners, civic leaders
–any parent groups that would like a presentation” to contact the MOST of Us team.
What does the program cost, and who pays for it?
The Most of Us® campaign is funded by a federal grant from the Drug-Free Communities Support Program, a national effort to mobilize communities to prevent youth drug use, in partnership with the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.
Locally, MOST of Us is a project of the Forest Lake Area Partnership for Families (formerly known as the Tri-County Youth and Family Partnership).
Forest Lake receives about $10,000 a year for 2011/2012 and 2012/2013 for messaging and related expenses, such as posters, t-shirts, lanyards, sandwich boards and banners.
The grant also pays $3,000 per year for access to the Montana Institute professional staff. MOST of Us is a product of Montana State University.
Two local businesses, Big Apple Bagels and Forest Lake Printing, are part of the community partnership.
In-kind donations include committee member time by multiple agency partners.