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Forest Grove forum tackles topic of teen drinking

Conversation - Panelists ponder parents' role in the alcohol consumption habits of their kids
by: Chase Allgood, Panelist Samantha Leon, a Forest Grove High junior, thinks parents’ drinking “sends a message” to youth.

Samantha Leon thinks it's hard for parents who regularly enjoy a bottle of beer or a glass of wine to tell their kids not to imbibe.

'If parents drink it sends the message that drinking is OK,' said Leon, a junior at Forest Grove High School.

Jean Laschever, however, has a different view. The Pacific University junior said her parents drank occasionally, but she never saw them intoxicated. This allowed her to notice a big difference when she got to college, where students often drink to get drunk.

'It's important to let kids see (adults) drinking responsibly because they will be around people who are drinking irresponsibly,' Laschever said. 'They need to see the difference. We don't teach people how to drink one beer.'

This frank exchange of viewpoints was just what the organizers of last Thursday's Forest Grove forum had in mind. Officials with the Washington County Youth Advisory Council pulled together a panel of students and experts to talk candidly about teen drinking. About two dozen people, more than half of them students, showed up to listen, ask questions and share their views.

Panelists William Powell, who oversees emergency room services at Tuality Healthcare, and Forest Grove police officer Joe Martino, said much of their weekend workload involves kids who've been drinking.

Powell said ER visits range from minor injuries from booze-fueled fights to people who've consumed so much alcohol that they stop breathing. He also noted that early drinking often leads to chronic alcoholism, which affects liver function.

Martino said legal sanctions for underage drinking can range from a simple citation to a trip to jail, depending on the incident, but all involve notification of parents.

The role of parents was a recurring theme during the hour-long presentation.

Anne Kraft, who is studying teen drinking for the Oregon Research Institute, said studies show that kids rarely obtain alcohol by using fake IDs at stores. Rather, they get beer, wine and hard liquor from friends, older family members and often at parties hosted in their homes with their parents' approval.

'Parent-hosted parties, or at least parent-tolerated parties, are a hot issue that a lot of communities are really struggling with,' Kraft said.

Parents, she explained, often believe they are being responsible by providing a safe place for kids to drink and taking away some of the allure of alcohol by making it available.

But, she warned, that sense of security may be misplaced. 'A lot of stuff goes down at house parties that parents might not be aware of,' she said.

Kraft said studies show that teens who grow up in homes where underage drinking is condoned drink twice as much as those in kids who are raised in 'zero-tolerance' homes.

Finally, she warned, when adults sanction underage drinking, it may give kids the idea that it's an accepted practice.

'What kind of message does this send to underage youth in the community?' she asked.

Ralph Brown, a Forest Grove School Board member, had the same question.

He wanted to know why more wasn't being done to crack down on parents who allow their kids to host parties where alcohol is served.

'I don't understand why there's such a double standard with these families that are having these parties,' he said. 'If you find 20 drunk kids in a house, why aren't the parents arrested?'

Jeff Williams, Forest Grove's acting police chief, said it's sometimes difficult to prove who provided the alcohol at parties.

'Charging someone criminally with furnishing alcohol to a minor can be difficult,' Williams said. 'Sometimes there is a disconnect between what appears to be obvious and what can be proven in a court of law.

'But when we have sufficient legal grounds to take action, we do.'