Over the next couple of weeks, tens of thousands of North Carolina’s young people will be graduating from high school. Many more will join them in celebrating the beginning of summer and the expanded sense of freedom this time of year often brings. As parents, we mark these milestones with them. But we must also remember that in many ways, our job gets harder this time of year – especially when it comes to preventing underage drinking.
As chairman of the North Carolina ABC Commission, a former U.S. congressman and former lieutenant governor, I have always been committed to the health and safety of North Carolina’s young people and families. Now, I have nine additional reasons to take the issue of underage drinking very personally – my grandchildren. As parents and grandparents, we are all in this together. But in order for us to address this problem, we must understand how big it truly is in North Carolina.
Surveys commissioned by the NC ABC Commission this spring show that 94 percent of North Carolina’s youths say underage drinking is a problem; 54 percent think it’s a big problem. Two-thirds (67 percent) of middle and high school-aged youth know people around their age who have tried alcohol. And among those same youth, the average age that most youth try alcohol for the first time is 14 years old. Despite those numbers, only 44 percent of North Carolina parents share young people’s view that underage drinking is a serious problem.
This disconnect is what prompted me and my colleagues at the NC ABC Commission to create our “Talk It Out” campaign. The goal is to educate parents about underage drinking and to empower them with the tools they need to talk to their kids about the dangers. Fortunately, many of you have listened and are now talking. A good first step, but we have to keep moving forward.
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To do that, we must face the reality that not only could this be your child but, statistically speaking, it probably will be your child much sooner than expected. This year’s survey shows that while 87 percent of parents see underage drinking as a community problem, only 59 percent are concerned about their own children drinking.
We all want to think that our children and grandchildren would never do anything wrong. But there’s a difference between being blinded by love and being motivated by it to act. I am calling on North Carolinians to choose to act. Graduation and the beginning of summer beach trips are a prime time for underage drinking to occur. In addition, the beginning of summer means less supervision for tweens and teens.
This is a natural and essential time to have a conversation with kids about underage drinking and to set the ground rules and expectations surrounding underage drinking for your family. This conversation must happen as the summer is getting started. You need to be clear, and you need to be prepared.
Your children have told us they want to hear from you about underage drinking, so let’s start talking. We simply can’t afford to wait.
Jim Gardner, chairman of the N.C. ABC Commission, is co-chair of the Governor’s Substance Abuse and Underage Drinking Prevention and Treatment Task Force.
Talk It Out
Find out more about the NC ABC Commission’s program and get answers to the questions children might ask at talkitoutnc.org.