Kids and alcohol: what you can do | Patty Skelton-McGougan | Parenting Lifeline

Every two years in local schools, students complete the state Healthy Youth Survey. Youth report on aspects of their physical and emotional well-being, which helps school and government officials and agencies like YES stay in tune with what’s happening in their lives.

The 2012 survey revealed troubling responses regarding alcohol use locally. Among Eastside 12th graders:

n 30 percent identified as heavy or problem drinkers (defined in the survey as drinking three to six times per week)

n Nearly 41 percent reported drinking alcohol during the 30 days prior to taking the survey

n One in four had been binge drinking the two weeks before

As Washington’s communities transition from limited days and hours for sales to 24/7 access to hard spirits in an increased number of stores, parental vigilance becomes even more critical – and complicated. Several new bills signed by the governor earlier this month expand access to alcohol even more. Effective July 28, movie theaters may sell beer, wine and spirits, and businesses that sell hard liquor will be allowed to offer on-site samples. Wine and beer sampling will also be allowed at farmers markets.

Of course, alcohol use among teens in our community is nothing new. Group sessions at Youth Eastside Services remain filled with young people who talk about their struggles, and our drug and alcohol counselors see hundreds of individual clients each week.

Certain downsides of increased access are clear. Thefts have gone up significantly since hard liquor became available in grocery, drug and convenience stores. This is reflected in what we’re hearing at YES. Easier access offers both a challenge and an opportunity for parents. Communication using open-ended questions is a useful skill for any issue. For example, you could share this article with your teen, then walk through a few scenarios, asking, “What would do if …”

  • A beer gets passed down the row of your friends at a movie.
  • At a party, your friend brags that she brought liquor “minis” that she shoplifted from the drug store
  • A farmers market vendor assumes you and your friends are over 21 and invites you to sample wine

These “what if” conversations allow teens “cover,” since they are responding to a hypothetical situation rather than being asked to incriminate a friend – or themselves. I also urge every concerned citizen – parent or not – to report inappropriate action. If you suspect minors are being served or are sneaking alcohol at a store, the movies or farmers market, let the manager know immediately. Businesses want to follow the state’s new laws and can’t be everywhere in their establishment as we adjust to the new realities.


Patti Skelton-McGougan is executive director of Youth Eastside Services. For more information, call 425-747-4937 or go to www.youtheastsideservices.org.

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