Underage Drinking Targeted

Governor's office wants to raise awareness about teen drinking problem

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The governor's office is working to keep Arizona youth safer this holiday season.

Gov. Janet Napolitano and the Arizona Underage Drinking Prevention Committee have unveiled a new public awareness campaign called Draw the Line.

The campaign targets underage drinkers, and adults who illegally provide minors with alcohol, in an effort to educate the public to the dangers of underage drinking.

The campaign's drawyourline.com Web site said the holidays are a time for parties and celebration for many families.

It is also a time of vulnerability for minors when it comes to making choices about alcohol.

Napolitano said it is the responsibility of parents and adults to guide teens in the right direction.

"Leading by positive example helps influence teens to make responsible choices. It's time for adults to draw the line against underage drinking," she said.

Contrary to popular belief, it is not illegal in Arizona to allow an underage family member to have alcohol under certain circumstances.

"Although parents and immediate family relatives may serve alcohol to their own

underage family members, it is illegal for adults to serve alcohol to non-family members whom they ‘know or should know' are underage," drawyourline.com said.

Napolitano warned against giving alcohol to anyone under 21.

"Countless research studies tell us that underage alcohol use, even at moderate levels, can cause permanent brain impairment, disrupt learning and program children for alcoholism or other addictions; adults must learn that there is no such thing as safe drinking for anyone under age 21," she said.

According to the Web site, approximately 40 40 percent of teens who begin drinking before age 15 will have some kind of alcoholic episode during their lifetime.

The same report said only 7 percent of people who don't start drinking until they are 21 or older would experience an alcoholic episode in their lifetime.

Some parents feel it is safer to allow children to drink at home where parents feel they can be monitored.

Law enforcement does not always see it that way.

"This is a hairline area of legality."

"I agree with the governor, I would advise against giving alcohol to anyone under 21, no matter what the circumstances," Payson Police Sgt. Tom Tieman said.

Tieman said parents who give their underage children alcohol could still be charged with a crime, regardless of the law.

He said police look at these situations on a case-by-case basis.

For example, if a parent allows a child to drink and/or engage in behavior that might be considered harmful or dangerous, both the parent and child could be charged with an offense, he said.

Or if a parent allows an underage child to drink and leave the home, under certain circumstances they could both be charged with an offense for that as well.

Tieman said consequences could be severe and could even include jail time and expensive fines.

Elisa Kelly, a 43-year-old Virginia resident, recently caught national attention when she and her now ex-husband, George Robinson, were sentenced to 27 months in jail in an underage drinking case.

Kelly threw a backyard party at her home for her son's 16th birthday in 2002, where underage people were allowed to drink.

Kelly and Robinson eventually pleaded guilty to nine counts of contributing to the delinquency of a minor.

Kelly served five months of her sentence before she was released.

Tips to help parents cope with underage drinking

Drawyourline.com offers these tips to help parents cope with the issues of underage drinking during the holidays:

  • Be clear with your children about where you stand on alcohol use. Talk it over before any event or party. Offer sound facts and solid examples of the damage alcohol can do.
  • Set consequences in advance for breaking family rules about drinking. Remind older siblings that they are role models to younger brothers and sisters.
  • Be present throughout any parties and circulate among younger guests. Don't be pressured into staying out of sight or allowing younger guests to separate from the party.
  • Offer activities at events besides drinking and dining. Offer plenty of non-alcoholic beverages, or a special punch to help non-drinkers and children feel included in the celebration's theme.
  • Do not illegally serve alcohol to non-family guests whom you know or should know are under age 21.
  • Don't over-consume yourself. Remember that children mimic the behavior of adults around them. If it's OK for adults to be drunk, teens are likely to feel that they have that right too -- now or when they reach the same age.

If during a party, a minor appears to have consumed too much, let his or her parent know. Ensure that they and their parents have safe transportation home.

  • Ensure that adult guests don't overconsume and that they don't drive home impaired.

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