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Seize the day to talk to teens about drinking

This month, scores of youngsters in Southeast Portland are opening the door to talking with the adults in their lives about underage drinking.

Students at Portland's Hosford Middle School will come together as part of a unique program called 'Talk About It Tuesday.' They'll share why they don't drink, describe the benefits of not using alcohol and tell the adults in their lives what they think kids risk when they choose to drink.

Earlier this month, Sellwood Middle School students took part in the same program, joining thousands of youth in other communities in Oregon who wore wristbands featuring messages and facts to raise awareness about the harms of underage drinking.

Whether underage drinking is a frequent part of your family conversation or not, there is no better time than now to refresh your skills or tackle the topic head-on for the very first time.

It may not always seem like it, but kids really do listen to their parents. How do I know? Scientific studies show that children are less likely to drink alcohol if their parents or caregivers set clear expectations with clear consequences. Many kids themselves say their parents' disapproval keeps them from drinking.

Children often face pressure from their peers to drink alcohol. They live in a world where millions of dollars are spent on alcohol advertising Ñ where drinking appears cool, glamorous and without consequence. The findings, however, are clear: Parents carry a message that is much more potent than any ad their kids may see or pressure they may face from peers.

This is an ever-growing public health problem. The 2002 Oregon Healthy Teens Survey found that one in four eighth-graders consumed alcohol and nearly 10 percent engaged in at least one episode of binge drinking in the past month.

Alcohol is a powerful drug that robs children of their hopes, dreams and lives. If a child starts drinking before age 15, the chances of addiction are four times greater than if he or she started at 21. Research compiled by the American Medical Association found that alcohol use harms the developing brains of adolescents, making it harder to learn and remember.

In addition, alcohol is involved in suicide, homicide and unintentional injuries, the leading causes of teen death.

Underage drinking doesn't define whether a person is a good or bad parent. Underage drinking is an environmental threat Ñ like dirty air and water. It should be a concern for all parents. The best defense against this epidemic starts at home.

The fact is, parents who:

• talk regularly with their kids about underage drinking and other drug use,

• establish clear rules for behavior and

• enforce consequences

can help lay a strong foundation for raising safe and healthy children. It's one of the best investments parents can make.

For more information about 'Talk About It Tuesday,' which is being held as part of National Alcohol Awareness Month, visit Oregon Partnership's Web site at www.orpartnership.org, where parents can obtain a newsletter.

Kathy Stromvig is executive director of the Portland Metro Caring Community Coalition. She lives in Southwest Portland.