Forum addresses local teens' drinking

Parents urged to maintain strict rules

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Soroco High School senior Chelsea Bonfiglio said she had two choices to make on Halloween night: drink alcohol with "95 percent of her peers," or do something else.

She did something else.

"Some of my friends went to the scary house in Steamboat, walked around Main Street and went home," she said. "That's it."

Bonfiglio's comments were made in front of a group of about 20 South Routt residents and a panel of professionals during a forum about underage drinking in Oak Creek on Thursday.

Bonfiglio was hardly the only one to make eye-opening statements during the forum.

Oak Creek police Chief Linda Koile said the most disturbing problem she encounters in Oak Creek is parents buying alcohol for their children or sitting at home and allowing them to drink.

"It's downright frightening," she said. "The parents are thinking, 'Well, at least I know what's going on, and I have the car keys.' Really, what you're doing is encouraging your kids to drink."

Koile was part of a panel that included Steamboat Springs police Officer Josh Carrell, Assistant District Attorney Kerry St. James, juvenile diversion officer Landra White, physician Bill Geserick, Steamboat Mental Health director Tom Gangel and South Routt School District Superintendent Kelly Reed.

South Routt Bible Church pastor Tom Harves agreed with Koile and added that teens are more likely to listen to their parents when the parents lead by example.

"We're sending our kids mixed messages. A dad will say, 'Don't drink' while he is sitting there having a beer. There's so much hypocrisy there," he said.

Reed said parents often place unfair pressure on the schools to teach their children about the dangers of underage drinking. It is the parents who need to reinforce the messages their children receive in school, he said.

"All we can do is educate. We can't prohibit. That's not our role," Reed said.

Reed said the barrage of advertising and media that glorifies alcohol abuse is another hurdle that needs to be jumped when addressing underage drinking.

"We've got to be willing to say, 'It's cool not to be cool,'" he said. "It takes courage."

After the presentations, members of the audience helped brainstorm ideas to address underage drinking in the community.

Some of the ideas included:

- Offering alcohol-free community events and events that aren't sponsored by alcohol companies

- Offering alcohol-free concerts for youths

- Encouraging youths to get involved in community service, sports, arts or music at an early age

- Offering teen or community clubs.

- Not allowing teens to be alone after school, when they are most at risk for substance abuse.

- Encouraging families to be consistent in teaching their children about alcohol.

The community forum was sponsored by Grand Futures Prevention Coalition, a community-based substance abuse prevention coalition organization in Northwest Colorado. The coalition provides education, training and research services in Routt, Grand and Moffat counties.

The forum was the last of several Red Ribbon Week activities held at Soroco Middle and High schools last week.

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