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UI-sponsored alcohol forum for local parents a positive for community

BY DI EDITORIAL BOARD | APRIL 20, 2010 7:30 AM

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Everybody knows by now that University of Iowa and Iowa City officials are in the midst of a battle to muzzle the city’s staggeringly high rate of binge drinking. Their weapon of choice is the contentious 21-ordinance.

But what if the root problem for many alcohol-abusing students could be solved years before they first stepped on campus?

A Monday night forum, organized by the UI Partnership for Alcohol Safety and MECCA Services, rightly recognized the long-term efficacy of proactive education. MECCA provides substance-abuses programs in eastern and central Iowa.

The event’s purpose, providing guidance to parents on how to talk with their children and teenagers about alcohol abuse, is exactly what this community — and nation — needs. We encourage the Partnership for Alcohol Safety to hold similar events in the future.

The event supplied parents with both current trends in alcohol use among pre-college students and guidelines for talking to their children. Forum organizers also cited scientific research about the risks of underage and binge drinking.

Kelly Vander Werff, a prevention manager for MECCA, said parents have a profound influence on whether their children will abuse alcohol.

“We often hear the message that it’s inevitable, kids are going to drink,” Vander Werff told the Editorial Board, noting that research shows that parents who explicitly talk to their children about alcohol can help reduce risky behavior. A study by the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University confirms that parental influence is a more powerful deterrent to teen substance abuse than legal restrictions.

“Parents are really a key audience,” Vander Werff said.

Simply put, restructuring local code is not the most effective way to change Iowa City’s ingrained binge-drinking culture, nor will it alter UI students’ fondness for engaging in risky alcohol consumption. Such a strategy will only work as a stopgap to temporarily appease irked community members and reduce Pedestrian Mall citations.

And education programs such as AlcoholEdu, though good in theory, are often blown off by students. In truth, most efforts by the university to promote alcohol education are no match for effective parenting. That’s why we suggest the university and city administrators cooperate to curb binge drinking by way of long-term, preventative efforts. Fortunately, the UI’s latest move to raise alcohol awareness is an exemplar of that approach.

Universities should not have to bear the responsibility of obligations typically reserved for parents, including alcohol awareness. And though the UI’s support for regulation has often bordered on paternalistic, we applaud school administrators for proactively bringing parents together for Monday’s forum.

While the effectiveness of the forum — and possible future forums — is obviously constricted to Iowa City, other towns would be right to take note. In the end, our country needs cultural changes vis-à-vis alcohol, rather than more restrictions.

To that end, community-based discourse is a necessary first step in changing future generations’ perceptions of alcohol consumption. We all need to realize that community involvement doesn’t just fall under the scope of politics, taxes, and crime. And preventive care is not limited to staving off diabetes, heart disease, or other physical ailments.

They’re both important in preventing future generations from adopting destructive alcohol habits. If Monday’s forum was any indication, it appears UI officials recognize that vital fact.


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