Havre Daily News
The presenters at a town hall meeting on underage drinking all came to the same conclusion Wednesday night: Alcohol is often too easily available to youths.
A number of presenters, including Havre Public Schools officials, and people who work with youth, alcohol treatment and law enforcement presented facts and statistics to students, parents and educators.
Collette Stinar, of the Gateway Recovery Center, said prevention should include everyone, and that the schools and law enforcement officials shouldn't be expected to fix the problem on their own.
“It needs to include the entire community,” she said. “Parents ... they‘re the key.”
Great Falls police officer Steve Pre'tat said that if the preventative measures are left up to local law enforcement, the kids may not cooperate because they don't see officers are trying to protect them from their own behavior.
“Once we get out there,” he said, “they see it as ‘It's us and them'.”
Stinar said that presentations need to be made to children about why they shouldn't drink. Many kids would decide not to drink if they knew their brains don't totally develop until they are between the ages of 24 and 27, she said.
If parents are not educated on underage drinking, Stinar added, all the efforts made on the kids could be wasted. Parents, she said, need to realize the kids are learning how to behave from them. Many times, while involved in classes for getting MIPs, parents of the kids ask why they're there, she said. A lot of times, parents are so relieved their kids aren't using drugs that they don't see their child has a problem. She said that parents often times will approach her after MIP class and say, “At least it's not meth.”
“Just because the drug is legal or not meth, doesn't make (the use) right,” Stinar said.
Altacare therapist Naomi Bowers, who works with HPS agreed. She said a lot of parents don't take action until their teen is out of control and then the parents look to addiction counselors at treatment centers and say “somebody's got to fix this kid.” But, Bowers said, treatment may be inappropriate by that point.
“Inpatient treatment for adolescents is a waste of money,” Bowers said. Teens may get healthy in treatment before they return to their old neighborhoods and environments. For awhile, the teen may be able to succeed with what they've learned, but without proper support, they will fail, she said. Bowers said the attitude of the parents she speaks with about the topic is that “Kids will be kids. They're all going to try it. God knows we did.” She added that this isn't helping to correct the problem, and that parents should take a long, hard look at what they as parents have taught their child.
“I guess the first place I'd look is inside myself as a parent,” Bowers said.
Stinar added that most parents don't really understand how much stress their child may be under. The community needs to educate the kids on healthier ways to relieve their stress.
“A lot of kids think the only way to relieve stress is to turn to a substance,” she said.
Sgt. John Sowell, head of the Great Falls Police Department's special projects unit, said he's raised around 40 kids as a foster parent, and have only had one of their kids receive an MIP. He thinks it's because the communication between kids and parents today isn't what it used to be, and because of that, kids look for other sources of influence. Parents need to be more active in their kids' lives, he said.
“There are a lot more influences other than parents now than when I was a kid,” Sowell said. “Take the time as parents to communicate with your kids and do your job.”
Havre High School student Keri Burstock said she tried alcohol once and didn't like it. After that, she said, she didn't drink again. She suggested that maybe Montanans need to raise the fines for adults who provide alcohol to kids. It's a pretty good business, she added, when you know 10 to 20 kids who want you to buy for them and you can make a few dollars here and there. What's a fine for $100, when a buyer can make at least that in one night, she added.
Great Falls police officer Noah Scott said nothing will change until the community makes youth drinking prevention a priority.
“Unite to support law enforcement and schools,” he said.
Stinar said that all it takes is one person to get things started.
“You need to find that one passionate person to coordinate the effort,” she said.
Bowers suggested taking the issues to a political level.
Great Falls police officer Cory Reeves said grants are available that would help local law enforcement get training and equipment.