Have a teenager who just won’t listen to you when you talk about the dangers of drinking and drugs?
You’re not alone and the situation isn’t easy but members of an underage drinking summit offered a few thoughts last week.
- If you can — find another adult that your kid can relate to, whether it is a friend, relative or coach.
- Take a tour of a correctional facility or juvenile hall to show where a wrong path can lead.
- Make sure there are consequences that affect something the teen cares about.
- Realize that it’s still worth driving the points because sometimes they listen more than you think.
- Be a good role model.
- In some cases a mental health evaluation could be necessary.
- Encourage your school to host recovering addicts or alcoholics. Kids often respond to those who’ve been through it.
“They’ve got to see people who've hit bottom,” panelist Judge Michael Sheldon said.
Sheldon joined Police Chief Christopher Arciero, Attorney A. Thomas Waterfall, juvenile probation officer Andrea Erikson and juvenile review board member Ruth Small for the summit.
Maria Coutant Skinner of the McCall Foundation, a Torrington-based treatment and prevention organization moderated the discussion, which was held at Thursday night.
Each speaker gave an overview of the laws and process of the legal system when it comes to underage drinking and drugs.
Waterfall, for example, held up a red plastic cup, commonly used at drinking parties. Just passing one to a minor, he said, is felony that can carry up to 18 months in prison and/or a $1,000 fine.
Other laws, including punishments for hosting parties or having alcohol in a vehicle, were also discussed and can be found at settherulesct.org
The panel also took question from the audience and several focused on the difficulties getting through to kids who feel they are invincible, won’t be punished and feel authorities are a “joke.”
One parent even said he brought his son to the police station after he came from an underage drinking party and questioned whether the police did anything.
Arciero said he did not know of the exact case and talked to the man after the program. But he also said police are willing to go out and attempt to stop parties in progress as they did in mid March when five minors and an adult were charged in connection with an underage drinking incident. Call as soon as possible, he said.
"Time is of the essence," Arciero said.
He stressed again that people can call (860) 693-0221 and remain anonymous.
Much conversation focused on having those whose lives were affected by bad choices come and talk to kids.
It’s something the high school has done and is willing to do more of, school officials said. Currently the school is looking at a program in West Hartford, principal Gary Gula said.
Waterfall said he sometimes speaks with a 20-year-old confined to a wheelchair after a drunken driving incident. The kids may not listen to him but to her they do, he said.
“That’s powerful,” he said.
Parents also learned about some options when kids do get into trouble.
Police are working on some new initiatives and welcome suggestions, concerns and criticism, Arciero said.
Small talked a little about Canton’s juvenile review board, which is an alternative to court for a first-time youth offender under 16.
Nearly all who apply are granted and the process includes a contract that parents and the offender sign. Depending on the case it can include drug testing or counseling and community service.
The process also includes education with such steps as a research paper, program presentation or trip to a juvenile detention center.
In one instance it helped a habitual shoplifter to volunteer at the local food bank, she said. And sometimes the process is enough of a deterrent to help kids choose a better path.
The summit was the latest in a series of events town and school officials have organized, doing so with increased urgency after some high-profile underage drinking incidents.
Officials acknowledge it’s not an easy fix. The culture of underage drinking, the attitudes, the addictive nature of some substances and the developing brain of teenagers all make it a challenge.
Sheldon mentioned on case in which a teen died when driving drunk. The night of his funeral his friends reportedly paid tribute by getting high.
In another case, a 14-year-old passed out when she and her friends drank in the woods. The friends carried her home, rang the doorbell and ran. Luckily the parents were home because the girl would likely have died.
And it happens to “good kids," whose positive influence still exist in the midst of so much peer pressure, Sheldon said.
But the speakers felt parents and the community still need to do everything possible. And statistics do show that kids often listen even when parents feel they don’t, Skinner said
“What you say and do absolutely matters,” she said.
With a handout, police offered a few more tips:
- Be home when your kids are home
- Be awake and engage your kids in conversation after they come home after time out with friends.
- Know your kids' friends, their parents and where they live
- Volunteer at school and community activities to enlarge the circle of people who know you and your kids
- Be on Facebook — not as a participant but as a monitor of your family's activities.
- Check the detail on your phone and other media accoints to see who your kids are communicating with and what they are communicating.
- Support alternative activities for town youth, such as the "Cave" teen center run on Friday nights at the Collinsville Congregation Church annex.
- Encourage participation in police-sponsored events such as teen driving events and Rock Cats baseball trips.