COMMUNITY COMMENTARY: Don’t blame it on the alcohol

Hip-Hop artists Jamie Foxx and T-Pain performed their No. 1 billboard single “Blame It” at the 2010 Grammy Music Awards and won this year’s Grammy for best duo performance. The chorus, “blame it on the alcohol,” blatantly illustrates a casually accepted perception of binge drinking. The body of the song sexualizes alcohol and speaks of a man encouraging a woman to consume alcohol until she loses her inhibitions about having sex with him. The hugely popular song identifies a change of community norms and social acceptability in American culture that parents need to pay attention to. This irresponsible message is just one of many shaping the way youth perceive alcohol. Young people are bombarded with alcohol messaging at every turn. From music and movies to billboards and magazine ads, alcohol is being packaged as something fun, sexy and harmless. Who is in charge of drawing the line? What role should adults take when it comes to keeping kids safe from the risks associated with alcohol?
Adults, and especially parents, are the first line of defense for preventing underage drinking. Essential to effective prevention is knowing how teenagers are getting alcohol and where they are drinking it. In a recent 2009-2010 youth alcohol survey administered by the North Coastal Prevention Coalition, or NCPC, and Vista Community Clinic, nearly 1,000 responses were collected from youth (under 21) and adults. The results of the survey are clear: both youth and adults overwhelming reported that teens in North County are drinking at house parties and getting their alcohol from adults. Adding to this problem, only 42 percent of parents report setting clear rules about alcohol with their children, and only 24 percent say they follow through with some form of discipline if these rules are broken.
The North Coastal Prevention Youth Coalition, or NCPYC, a program of NCPC, is working to raise community awareness about the dangerous consequences of underage drinking. This summer NCPYC launched the Youth Voice Project, which ran from the beginning of August through Labor Day weekend. This project focused on sending a strong message from youth to adults, urging them to do their part to prevent underage drinking by never providing alcohol to minors. NCPYC members created signs to display in local grocery store aisles with photos of themselves, and warnings in their own words about the risks and consequences associated with allowing minors to consume alcohol. One of the messages specifically informs people about the legal ramifications for permitting underage drinking at house parties through the Social Host Ordinance. Under this law, adults may be fined $1,000 and spend up to six months in jail for hosting a party and allowing anyone under the age of 21 to drink alcohol.
Parents can also do their part to prevent underage drinking:
— Set family rules about alcohol, including expected consequences, and following through on those consequences if rules are broken.
— Know who your child’s friends are and if they drink. Communicate with friends’ parents to ensure the same standards are in place for a zero tolerance alcohol policy and consistent supervision.
— Monitor what music your teen is listening to and the movies they watch. Speak up about media and marketing messages that you disagree with, and let your teenager know where you stand.
Leticia Robles is a media/prevention specialist with the North Coastal Prevention Coalition for which Vista Community Clinic serves as the fiscal agent. It is funded in part by the County of San Diego, HHSA, Alcohol and Drug Services, and by the Center for Substance Abuse Prevention STOP Act. To find out more about underage drinking prevention, visit www.northcoastalpreventioncoalition.org.

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