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Alcohol forum teaches parents

BY EMILY BUSSE | APRIL 20, 2010 7:30 AM

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Joy Moel is gearing up for her 14-year-old twin boys to enter high school later this year — a milestone that can mean increased pressure to drink alcohol.

Becoming more informed and more confident to talk to her kids will help her “set consistent expectations” as they enter high school, the local parent said.

So she’s educating herself on the realities of underage drinking and looking to learn “how my perception may be different than reality is.”

Moel, along with around 45 other parents and community members, filled West High’s Little Theater on Monday night to discuss how to speak with their kids about alcohol.

Organized by the Partnership for Alcohol Safety — a coalition including University of Iowa officials, city officials, and bar owners — the public forum boasted a turn-out of more than double what organizers had hoped for, said Vander Werff.

Five local experts including Kelly Vander Werff, prevention manager for MECCA services, and Victoria Sharp, the UI’s special assistant to the provost for alcohol safety and a partnership member, moderated the hourlong forum.

Sharp said focusing on parents in particular is critical.

“The parents are another very important partner in trying to make a difference,” Sharp said.

Parents of high-school students made up the majority of the audience with 57 percent, and 35 percent had children in college. Parents of elementary-age kids were also present.

Attracting parents with children of all ages was an important aspect of the forum, Sharp said, noting kids in elementary school model their parents’ behaviors.

Just because their kids are in college doesn’t mean they don’t listen, either, she said.

“Some parents think at a certain age, they don’t have too much influence, but the literature really reinforces and supports how important parents are throughout,” she said.

MECCA Services, a substance-abuse organization, teamed up with the partnership to plan the forum over the last two or three months. Vander Werff said the extensive use of facts and statistics during the presentation will help dispel myths about underage drinking.

“We hope parents come away with that they do have influence and that it matters that they have conversations with their young people about not drinking alcohol,” Vander Werff said. “That it’s OK to have a no-alcohol policy.”

Audience members answered statistical questions projected onto a screen by using electronic keypads.

For instance, one interactive question asked: “How confident do you feel about your ability to have an effective discussion regarding alcohol use with your children?”

Thirty two percent of the audience reported being “very confident”; only 2 percent said they were “not at all confident.”

Panelists also discussed the legality and effectiveness of letting children drink inside the home to decrease drinking elsewhere — a myth Vander Werff said is important to dispel.

“There can be a lot of pressure to be the cool parent,” Vander Werff said.

West High Principal Jerry Arganbright stressed the importance of communicating with university officials.

“Your kids at the university are really our kids,” he said to the UI officials present. “It doesn’t behoove us to speak independently.”

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