Tuesday, October 26, 1999

Get tough on teen drinking, kids say

High school panel offers solutions

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        BLUE ASH — Ask some teen-agers what to do to stop underage drinking and the answer might surprise you: Require more consistent and harsher penalties.

        The suggestion was among several solutions proposed Monday by a panel of students from four Hamilton County high schools. They were the keynote speakers at a breakfast hosted by the Northeast Community Challenge Coalition at the Best Western Hotel here.

        The event announced the start of Red Ribbon Week, an annual national campaign that encourages youth not to use alcohol and drugs. Schools throughout the Tristate will feature activities and programs to enforce the anti-drug message.

        The National Minimum Drinking Age Act of 1984 required states to raise to 21 the age at which alcohol can be purchased or possessed.

        The panelists — students from Sycamore High, Moeller High, Cincinnati Hills Christian Academy and Ursuline Academy — studied areas relating to underage drinking, such as how police officers from various departments handle parties where teens are drinking and the range of punishments school officials give to students caught with alcohol.

        From their research, the students created the panel to educate community leaders.

        “Police represent one of the more serious and immediate threats to underage drinkers,” said Tom Gallagher from Sycamore High in Montgomery. “But efforts need to be stepped up. Police should make it more of a priority.”

        Teen-agers get the wrong message, students said, when punishments are inconsistent for teens caught with alcohol.

        “We hear stories of one kid getting slapped on the wrist and another person getting slammed,” Mr. Gallagher said.

        It would help “if students have a more concrete idea what is going to happen to them,” said Betsy Haglage, a student from Ursuline Academy, Blue Ash.

        “Then, kids won't take the risk and try drinking,” she said.

        The panelists also suggested that punishment be more severe for students caught with alcohol, such as removing them from leadership positions and extracurricular activities. School officials also should establish communication so a student would be punished if caught with alcohol on another campus.

        Adults, too, need to be educated to the health and safety issues of allowing underage drinking, the panelists said.

        “We need to stop the "enablers,'” Mr. Gallagher said, “the older brother who supplies the alcohol or the parents who are willing to allow drinking in their home.”


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