Unleash your superpower to reduce underage drinking

Opinion: Columns

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By Working For Positive Youth Development

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Oak Park and River Forest possess qualities that set us apart from communities near and far. But in at least one respect we are no different from anyone else: We cherish our children, we want what is best for them, and above all, we want them to grow up safe.

In 2015 Oak Park Township received a grant from the Illinois Department of Human Services to address a disturbing fact that places that common yearning in jeopardy: Young people in our communities have been consuming alcohol at rates above the state average.

This trend dates back at least to 2010, based on answers furnished by our youth anonymously every two years on the Illinois Youth Survey. To address that issue head-on, the township formed the Workgroup for Positive Youth Development (PYD). The coalition draws from numerous sectors in the community, including police, schools, government, youth-serving organizations, faith-based organizations, health professionals, parents, youth and civic groups.

The workgroup and its leadership and data teams are designing communication campaigns geared toward parents, youth and the community. You may have seen some of the communications already — and there is much more to come.

Information includes the risks of drinking for teens, and shares strategies with parents and community members to limit access to alcohol for teens. We are also working closely with law enforcement to make sure local bars and restaurants are not serving alcohol to minors.

These efforts, however, are only as effective as the community's collective response to this undeniable problem. Here is where your influence is a superpower: all adults play a pivotal role in helping our teens make healthy choices, including remaining alcohol-free.

Although most adults disapprove of teen drinking, limiting it calls upon us to set rules and then enforce them, often in the face of myriad challenges. Teens are striving for independence and autonomy, there are constant peer pressures to drink, and the larger culture sends mixed signals, at best, about whether our kids should consume alcohol. 

Is taking a stand really worthwhile?

A growing body of research tells us that health risks to teens from alcohol are very real. According to studies by many distinguished researchers and reports by the U.S. Surgeon General and the Centers for Disease Control, alcohol has multiple health consequences for teens because it affects areas of their brains that are still developing until 25 years old. These areas include those needed for executive function and decision-making.

Delaying alcohol consumption is one of the best health decisions anyone can make. In a national survey of more than 43,000 adults, 47% of those who began drinking alcohol before age 14 report that they became alcohol-dependent at some point in their lives. By contrast, among those who waited until the legal age of 21 before drinking, that figure was 9%.

We could cite data about a host of other problems, such as academic struggle, fighting, physical and sexual assault, and higher risks of suicide and homicide. But a sea of statistics is not nearly as important as what each of us, individually, can do to be part of the solution.

We invite you to learn more at http://oakparktownship.org/pyd/overview.

Kelly O'Connor, Aimee Bates, Susan Parks, Barb Hickey, Florence Miller, Kevin Crowell, John Hedges, Lourdes Nicholls, Tandra Rutledge, Anita Pindiur, Carla Sloan and Matt Baron

Community Committee, Oak Park-River Forest Workgroup for Positive
Youth Development 

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