Meeting tackles underage drinking

March 29, 2006|by ERIN CUNNINGHAM


Parents listened Tuesday night as two teenagers explained how and why their lives were destroyed by drugs and alcohol.

They also learned how their children could avoid the same future.

The town hall meeting at Northern Middle School was designed to educate parents and teens about the dangers and the prevention of underage drinking.

It's unhealthy and can often lead to other problems, said James Conrad, Washington County Health Department's curbing underage drinking coordinator.

Representatives from Washington County Public Schools, the Health Department, police agencies and the State's Attorney Office attended the meeting - the first in a series of steps nationally on the topic.

About 1,200 similar meetings were held nationally Tuesday, including 16 in Maryland and many more in Pennsylvania and West Virginia.

"It's pretty scary when they get into the middle school years," said Angela Fisher of Hagerstown.

Fishers' two daughters, Autumn, 11, and Amber, 10, were with her. Autumn is a sixth-grader at Northern Middle.


"I'm worried about everything," Fisher said. "What's not to be worried about these days?"

The average age when children experiment with alcohol is 8 to 10 years old, Conrad said. Those ages used to be 10 to 12.

William Christoffel, chief health officer of the Health Department, said recent data shows that more than 26 percent of Washington County eighth-graders admitted to drinking wine coolers, wine or beer in the past year.

More than 12 percent of eighth-graders admitted to binge drinking in the past year, he said.

"It's everywhere," said Edward Masood, the school system's director of arts, health, physical education and athletics.

Peer pressure and a lack of parental involvement were cited as reasons that teens choose to drink at an early age.

"Peer pressure can impact your judgment," said Washington County Sheriff's Col. Douglas Mullendore. "Keep those lines of communication open."

Autumn Fisher said she would not be surprised if some people at her middle school are drinking. She hears rumors, she said, that some are.

"I tell my kids that knowledge is power," her mother said. "Be aware."

Ann Marie Wirfs of Hagerstown said she and her husband, Bill, took their two sons to the meeting Tuesday to educate them and themselves.

"We want to get them exposed to what's out there," she said.

Her son, Tyler, 14, is in the gifted program at school, but hearing two teenage representatives say that they used to get As, too, before they started drinking and doing drugs, was shocking.

"These were straight-A students and cheerleaders," she said.

What can parents do?

  • Establish and maintain good communication with your child.

  • Make clear rules and enforce them with consistency and appropriate consequences. Be your child's parent, not a friend.

  • Be a positive role model.

  • Teach your child to choose friends wisely, know who those friends are and talk with their parents.

  • Monitor your child's activities.
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