Most Marin parents will tell you that it isn’t uncommon to see alcohol consumed on the sidelines at youth sporting events or at team parties. Or that they have been offered a drink while out trick-or-treating with their kids. Or they have sent their nervous teens off to their first prom while sipping wine with other parents. It’s completely normal. But, some are questioning, should it be?
One grassroots effort is asking parents and youth-focused organizations to reconsider the presence of alcohol at youth events. The idea of Raising the Bar, which began in San Anselmo in 2017, was in response to the similarly high rates of drinking among adults and youth in our community.
While Marin County has been ranked the number one healthiest county in California for 9 out of the past 10 years, it has among the highest binge drinking rates among adults (as well as motor vehicle deaths related to intoxication and drug overdose deaths).
Not coincidentally, the latest results from the California Healthy Kids Survey show 39% of Marin 11th graders report using alcohol in the past month versus 29% in California. And for Tam Union High School District that number jumps up to 47%.
Research indicates that youth are starting alcohol and drug use at an increasingly younger age and that parents play a significant role in their children’s decisions regarding alcohol. (SAMHSA)
Michael Scippa from Alcohol Justice was quoted as saying, “We’re concerned about how alcohol is being institutionalized, that it’s become such a part of the fabric of the culture that it’s expected and accepted that there’s nothing you can do that wouldn’t be better with a glass of alcohol in your hand. And that’s just wrong, especially for youth.”
So, why does it matter? What we know now, that we didn’t know 20 years ago is how harmful early alcohol use is to the developing adolescent brain. We know underage drinking is associated with academic failure, illicit drug use, tobacco use, risky sexual behavior, and a range of harmful physical effects. Early alcohol misuse is also associated with a greater likelihood of developing a substance use disorder later in life. (surgeongeneral.gov)
For some youth, the harms of early use won’t be evident until later in life. A number of local parents, schools, public health professionals and community organizations want to do everything they can to ensure that our young people have the chance to grow up in an environment that reduces the risks and harms associated with underage substance use.
Several youth organizations are answering that call. To date, over a dozen groups have signed on with Raising the Bar including West Marin Little League, Sleepy Hollow Swim Team and Marin FC Soccer Club. In partnership with Raising the Bar, the San Anselmo Recreation Department will also keep their annual Country Fair Day alcohol-free for the second year in a row.
So, what can parents do to change the social norms that contribute to underage alcohol use? Raising the Bar is not aimed at adult alcohol consumption outside of youth-focused occasions. There are, however, simple steps we can all take to model healthier behaviors around our kids. For example, if you pour yourself a drink when you get home in the evening, have the drink without saying something like, “boy do I deserve a drink after my stressful day”. Or if you are hosting a birthday celebration for your child, you can model that adults can have fun without alcohol too. At pre-prom parties, you can let guests know that you will be waiting to serve alcohol until after the teens have left for the dance. Small changes in our behavior can contribute to a much greater and healthier environment for our kids overall. We can all raise the bar.