The statistics are alarming. According to the most recent Montana Youth Risk Behavior Survey, 85 percent of high school seniors will have had their first alcoholic drink by the time they graduate. In the last month, 38.3 percent of high school students drank some kind of alcohol. One out of five had their first alcoholic drink before age 13. One out of four rode with a driver who had been drinking.
A new film released this month by the Department of Public Health and Human Services encourages parents to help curb this behavior by simply having a conversation with their kids about the dangers of underage alcohol use.
The 10-minute video, which is called “Keep Talking Montana,” will be distributed around the state to various agencies, coalitions and prevention programs. It is also available online for viewing and download at www.parentpower.mt.gov and www.stopalcoholabuse.gov/statevideos.
“This is a valuable tool for schools, parents, family members and community groups,” DPHHS Director Anna Whiting Sorrell said in a press release. “Alcohol remains the number one drug of abuse for Montana’s youth. Those who have their first drink before the age of 15 are four times more likely to become dependent on alcohol than those who wait to begin drinking until age 21.”
The video stresses three actions for parents to take: Talk to your kids about alcohol, talk to other parents about underage drinking and get involved in local prevention efforts.
“We want parents to keep the conversation going,” said Vicki Turner of the DPHHS Prevention Resource Center.
Turner pointed out that studies show parental disapproval of underage drinking is the number one reason kids choose not the drink.
“If I ever drank alcohol, I wouldn’t have my mother’s trust,” said 13-year-old Anna Fischer. “That’s what’s most important to me.”
Anna and her brother, Patrick, of Helena are among a group of teens interviewed on the video about the influence parents can have on their kids’ behavior.
“You can’t really sugar coat something like this,” Patrick says on the video. “It just has to be said, that I’m concerned about this, I don’t want you doing this, and this is bad.”
Andy Turner, a freshman at Capital High, is also featured in the video.
Turner said that his parents have made it clear to him that underage drinking is something they heartily disapprove of, and a behavior that can jeopardize his future.
“If I start drinking now, I could become an alcoholic,” Turner said. “You have to think about the future and what you want to be.”
Anna, who attends East Valley Middle School, also thinks about her future as an athlete.
“Every time you take a drink, you lose a week’s worth of training,” she said. “It’s not worth it. It’s not smart.”
The video also includes interviews with members of the Governor’s Interagency Coordinating Council for Prevention, including Patty Stevens of Ronan. Stevens talks about the night police officers knocked on her door to tell her that one of her sons had been killed and another seriously injured in an alcohol-related car crash.
Stevens says in the video: “The issue and problem of underage drinking is not a matter of being Indian or white, rich or poor or whether you live in the city or small town — it affects everybody. To keep our kids safe, Montana parents need to keep talking. Keep talking to your kids. Keep talking to you friends. Just keep talking about underage drinking.”
The video was produced with help from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s Center for Substance Abuse Prevention and is narrated by Tim McGonigal of KXLH-TV of Helena.
Turner said she is pleased with how the video turned out and the message it gives to parents.
“It was a collaborative project,” Turner said. “It was a Montana-specific effort, but it’s not an issue of race or town size. It’s not geared toward a specific segment of our state. It’s a universal problem.”
Turner also said she is proud of the teens who participated in the video.
“They have found ways to do fun and exciting things. They can laugh and have a good time — volunteering, participating in sports. They are a roll model for other kids in the community.”