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Educating Parents on Underage Drinking: A SNAP™ for Randolph, New Jersey, Town Hall

Like parents in every city or town across the country, the parents in Randolph, a small town in Morris County, New Jersey, face the challenge of underage drinking in their community. A recent incident drew attention to the issue: In 2008, 110 Randolph high school students were arrested after renting a “party bus” for a trip to Vermont with kegs of beer, bottles of vodka, and other drugs onboard; of the 110 students, 62 were arrested on underage drinking charges.

Prevention is Key, a community-focused nonprofit organization, hosted the “What Every Parent Needs to Know About Underage Drinking” Town Hall Meeting in Randolph on April 18, 2012. The event addressed the problem of underage drinking and the role of parents in stopping it from a developmental perspective. Placing the event at the local middle school was one way to make parents aware that many children begin drinking during middle school, years before some adults assume. Passing the word among the school’s students that participating parents would be given a free “homework pass,” which children could use to skip a homework assignment, motivated young people to make sure their parents attended. An attorney and a pediatrician gave the participating parents attention-getting information that many had not heard before—the legal implications for both children and adults in underage drinking court cases and the effects alcohol can have on the developing brain during adolescence. The pediatrician also reviewed disturbing statistics about teen alcohol-related emergency room visits at area hospitals. An expert in substance abuse treatment countered local misconceptions about alcohol abuse, addiction, and the assumptions that teen drinking is a “harmless rite of passage” and that “everybody is doing it.” He also advised the attendees how they can support young people in Randolph who choose to avoid alcohol.

But Heidi Brotzman, community coalition coordinator of Prevention is Key and coordinator of the 2012 Town Hall Meeting, believes that SNAP™ had the biggest impact on participating parents. SNAP is an automatic audience polling system that displays audience responses to multiple-choice questions on-screen for all to see. Following the panelists’ initial presentations, parents answered the system’s questions, and panelists then responded to the polling results. For example, when asked if parents are the best source of information and guidance for their children about alcohol, 74 percent of parents responded negatively; this result prompted a panelist to cite research showing that parents can be the most powerful influence on teens’ decisions about alcohol. While an encouraging 94 percent of parents responded that they did not think it was okay for their children to drink with their friends, 50 percent acknowledged that they had never discussed the issue with their teens or set clear family rules about alcohol for them.

Live polling of the Town Hall Meeting audience had important results. It provided Prevention is Key with a sampling of parental knowledge and attitudes relating to teens and alcohol, which will help the coalition shape future actions and messages. Also, as local schools learned about the results of the polling exercise, they allowed Prevention is Key easier access to their data about student alcohol problems; the coalition’s partnership with Students Against Destructive Decisions also played an important role in attaining this access.

Morris County Prevention is Key pinpoints the use of its prevention resources in meeting the varied needs of the county’s many municipalities. In September 2013, its innovative program New Social Engine, which is dedicated to reducing the harm from substance abuse and targets students at three New Jersey colleges, received a 2013 National Exemplary Award for Innovative Substance Abuse Prevention Programs, Practices, and Policies.

To fine-tune its plans for the 2014 underage drinking prevention Town Hall Meetings, sponsored by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, Prevention is Key organized separate focus groups for parents and teens in Randolph, scheduled to take place during October 2013. “These Town Hall Meetings have always been an important way for us to deliver information to our community,” says Brotzman. “They still are, but now they are becoming an equally valuable way for the community to give us information we need to make what we do even more effective.”


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