The Safe Community Coalition is trying to get the word out to parents that teenage drinking can be curbed with diligence by the adults in the community. With the arrival of spring and reasons to party looming, SCC is asking the whole community to address the problem.
Jan Auerbach, the SCC president, said during a press conference on the issue Monday that it’s important that youth get the message that, “drinking and being popular don’t have to go together.”
The SCC is made up of members of civic, medical, police, religious, school and business organizations who come together to work on issues facing McLean’s youth and work towards solutions for the whole community.
A study released by the Fairfax County Public School conducted in 2000 reveals that 53 percent of students in the 12th grade had an alcoholic drink in the last 30 days. Binge drinking was acknowledged by 31 percent of students. Problems with marijuana use were also revealed in the study.
UPDATED RESULTS FROM a new study will be announced this summer.
Teenagers typically hold parties at a home where no adults are present. These affairs are often huge parties once word spreads and other teenagers show up. The McLean District police station reports getting roughly 350 calls each year about parties in progress.
“We’re asking neighbors to call in if they believe children are congregating,” said Auerbach. Though large parties still happen, because of the involvement of school administrators and school resource officers with the McLean station, they are becoming less prevalent than they have been in the past.
“As soon as we hear about it, a phone call from the police will be made to the parents,” said Langley High School principal Bill Clendaniel.
“The days of big parties, large groups congregating, are passing. It’s more likely 10 or 15 kids in a parking lot or hanging out somewhere,” said Auerbach.
POLICE CPT. STEVE SMYLIE, formerly with the McLean station, said, “This is a bigger issue than any one organization or entity can deal with.” Officers from McLean will partner with officials at Wolf Trap again this year to curb underage drinking at concerts. Last year officers patrolled the parking lot at five concerts and were able to apprehend and stop teenagers drinking alcoholic beverages on the park grounds.
The SCC continues to act to prevent teenage drinking. They are starting to target younger children for the message because recent studies reveal children are using drugs and alcohol at earlier ages than before. “The problem seems to be starting younger. What we’re hearing from teens is that things they weren’t even thinking about in middle school are becoming more and more common,” said Auerbach.
SCC held a Teen Summit in February that fostered a dialogue between adults and teens over the issues of drinking, drug use and how to deal with these problems. The organization is looking into other ways to convey the message that drinking alcohol and using drugs are not a required rite of passage for teenagers.
These include more outreach to parents to have them understand the health consequences to children who drink and the legal repercussions to adults that permit the behavior.
Parents are also encouraged to be proactive in looking for drinking and drug use in their kids. “There’s nothing wrong with going down to the basement where the party is to check every 15 minutes to see that there are pretzels in the bowl and to make sure it's soda in the cups,” said Auerbach.
“Let kids know they can come to your house and have a good time. Build it and they will come, but they need to know there are limits,” said Mitch Kamins, guidance counselor at Longfellow Middle School.
Auerbach contends one of the hurdles facing SCC in controlling teenage drinking is that parents often abdicate their role as authority in their child’s life to the school system. “It’s OK to be a parent,” said Auerbach.
Clendaniel said, “'No' is the most powerful word you can say to a child sometimes.”