Tool kit aims to start dialogue

Group continues efforts to curb underage drinking

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— Teenager Molly Weiss said there's a simple explanation for her decision to not drink alcohol - she doesn't want to disappoint her parents.

"Underage drinking is definitely something I've talked about with my parents," said Weiss, 18, a senior at Steamboat Springs High School. "I do go off a lot of what my parents say because I respect them a lot."

The Youth Wellness Initiative would like more parents and teens to discuss drinking. The group recently created a Teen Alcohol Prevention Tool Kit with that goal in mind.

The Youth Wellness Initiative is a collaboration of Grand Futures Prevention Coalition, the Northwest Colorado Visiting Nurse Association and the Yampa Valley Community Foundation.

"There is so much info out there on teen alcohol use, and it can be overwhelming for parents, so we condensed it down to be concise and easy to read," said Colleen Lyon, director of Grand Futures.

The tool kit includes statistics about local teen alcohol use, facts about the dangers of teen alcohol use, and tips about how parents can start conversations about drinking with their children, as well as information about the positive effects of healthy relationships with family and community on a teen's ability to make good choices.

"We hope they are useful to parents and encourage dialogue between parents and teens," Lyon said. "Parents may already know a lot of the strategies in the tool kit, but it may be a reinforcement in what they already know in setting clear standards and consistent messages."

Kristi Brown, a Steamboat restaurant and bar owner who works with the Youth Wellness Initiative, said parents play a pivotal role in preventing underage drinking.

"We are responding to studies that are showing that parents are more influential on kids' attitudes and behaviors than parents may believe," she said. "A lot of parents out there think that kids' peers and the media have the greatest influence over what kids do, but studies have shown that parents exert the most influence on what kids choose to do and not to do."

Steamboat Springs Police Capt. Joel Rae said the tool kit is an example of how many community leaders are making an effort to take preventative measures in regard to teen drinking.

"This is a pivotal step in a multi-step approach that is not reactive, but preventative," he said.

Other steps include a focus on law enforcement that prosecutes adults who provide alcohol to teens and a no-tolerance policy for underage drinkers.

"We are going to cite them for minor in possession or consumption of alcohol," he said. "No if, ands or buts in that."

A Steamboat Springs High School survey revealed in January 2006 that 54 percent of high school students reported using alcohol once or more in the past 30 days, and 40 percent reported getting drunk once or more in the past two weeks.

The survey also found that 74 percent of high school students reported attending one or more parties in the past year where fellow students were drinking.

Brown said a series of community forums hosted by the Youth Wellness Initiative has helped get the word out on the extent of underage drinking in Steamboat.

"I think that in all our community meetings, those statistics are what really shocked people," she said. "I think that as parents and community members get a better understanding of what is happening, I think a more heightened education effort will ensue."

The tool kits are available by calling Grand Futures at 879-6188.

"There are also some at the VNA, and several tool kits are available in the high school and middle school counseling offices," Brown said. "The tool kit is one way we can help parents start a conversation with kids and have the tools they need to have that communication."

Weiss said her parents are not the only useful tool for information about alcohol, but they serve as a handy excuse to just say "no" when she's faced with the opportunity to drink.

"My friends respect me when I say 'no,' but I can always just say that I'd get in trouble with my parents," she said. "But it's not really about getting in trouble, I just don't want to let my parents down."

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