ALPENA - Parents, students and community members participated in a discussion about teen drinking during a community forum Thursday night at the Alpena County Library. The forum addressed issues involved with the purchase, use and effects of teen alcohol consumption, along with circumstances and preventative measures in place to deter students from alcohol and drugs.
April is Social Host Awareness month, and with that designation comes questions as to the purchase of alcohol for minors. The panel heard statistics from around the county that an average of 26 percent of ninth graders and 52 percent of 11th graders have been drunk at least once in their lifetime. Alpena County Sheriff Steve Keiliszewski agreed with the statistic, and addressed why he believes the numbers are accurate.
"The Sheriff's office looks at social media and what is posted on social media," Keiliszewski said. "We see photos, videos and other postings about parties and know it takes place."
News Photo by Nicole Grulke
Community members posed questions and entertained discussion during a community forum on underage drinking at the Alpena County Library Thursday night. The forum was hosted by The Alpena News, and panel members included, from left to right, Michigan Liquor Control Commission investigator Cindy Ranshaw, Alpena High School principal Matt Poli, Alpena County assistant prosecutor Russ Rhynard, Alpena County Sheriff Steve Keiliszewski and Associate Councilor at the Sunrise Center Matt Muszynski. Alpena News publisher Bill Speer and Managing Editor Steve Murch delivered questions to initiate the discussion.
Students in the audience agreed as well, noting that between social media and word around school, parties take place often, and some said they had witnessed students their age or younger drinking.
The involvement of social media in today's culture played a large part in the discussion, including how students use technology to communicate and how it can reinforce the stigma that "drinking is cool" or "everyone does it."
"Students are smarter about drinking, but it doesn't mean it has lessened their participation," Alpena High School principal Matt Poli said. "The consequences and enforcement just makes them think of ways to do it differently. We don't see students coming to school drunk, but that doesn't mean they aren't doing it somewhere else."
Associate counselor at the Sunrise Centre, Matt Muszynski, said stigmas about drinking are everywhere today from television to video games and social media, and in order to stop students from thinking it is something "everyone does," the culture needs to change.
"We need to stop popularizing it and start at home with family and friends," Muszynski said. "Students need to know that they don't have to fall in with the "party crowd." We need the students to be leaders again and just say no when confronted with negative peer pressure."
Cindy Ranshaw, an investigator with the Michigan Liquor Control Commission said students aren't obtaining alcohol by buying it in stores or in bars. The majority of underage drinking happens because friends or family have it available or are supplying them with it.
"From a liquor license standpoint, we don't have a problem," Ranshaw said. "Last year there were zero sales to minors in the sting operations we held in Alpena. Fortunately, Alpena has a fairly good group of establishments that are not selling to minors."
So if they aren't buying underage, where does the liquor come from? Students are using different methods including having older friends, family members and sometimes even parents purchase alcohol for them. Keiliszewski said he believes some of the drinking is seen as a "right of passage" because parents had their first beer at that age, but letting minors consume alcohol is still illegal.
"There are still a lot of 21 year olds who are friends with younger students who are providing alcohol to younger people," Keiliszewski said. "Some people feel that because they did it when they were younger, it is OK to let minors have a drink. We have to tell people that it's not the right thing to do."
Rhynard agreed that there is the idea that supervising drinking minors makes the act "OK," and taking all their keys so they can't drive after drinking makes it OK to let them party.
"I've heard the excuse from parents that their kids are going to do it anyway, so they might as well control it," Rhynard said. "Why would you expect the negative of your child? Changing the culture about drinking really does have to start at home. There's a difference between having your child's respect and having them like you."
Several programs are in place in school to reinforce the negative affects of alcohol and drug abuse, one of them being the Drug Abuse Resistance Education (D.A.R.E.) program that is administered around the fifth grade, and a Life Skills program at the junior high level. Even though good decisions are continually covered in school, students still see consumption all around them on the Internet, at festivals or at home. To combat the probability of a student drinking, positive reinforcement against that behavior has to start at home.
Students in the audience shared their ideas on how parents can reach out to their children to show them they support them, and teach them to make good decisions.
"You need to be able to talk with your kids. Show them that you care by keeping up with them," AHS senior Carlee Giordano said. "Have a relationship with your kids. I could never imagine disappointing my parents. I respect them."
Fellow senior Jay Dutcher said it's important for students to have positive reinforcement at home and at school.
"There is always this idea of the "cool kids," Dutcher said. "If you surround yourself with good people and spend time with good people, you can be "cool" with them and still be yourself. If you choose your friends wisely, they will make a positive influence on you and help in your success."
During prom and graduation, the chance of students being involved in underage drinking rises. But with some positive influence and guidance, at school and at home, the possibility of teens partaking in underage drinking can decrease.
Nicole Grulke can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 358-5687. Follow Nicole on Twitter @ng_alpenanews.