Wednesday May 19, 2010

BENNINGTON -- Survey results concerning teenage alcohol use, completed by more than 200 parents of teens in Southwestern Vermont,show skewed perceptions of alcohol use.

Of those who completed the anonymous online survey, 83 percent of parents with children in middle school and 65 percent of those with children in high school answered that their child had not consumed alcohol in the past year.

However, just 11 percent of middle school parents and 2 percent of high school parents said they thought most students the same age hadn't drunk alcohol in that time.

"Parents are assuming that other parents are letting their kids drink,but they don't think that their own child is drinking,"said Kerri MacLaury, program manager for Southshire Partnership for a Healthy Community. "There's an obvious perception gap that ‘my kid never drinks, but so many other kids are drinking.'"

MacLaury said surveys completed by students the same age show the actual number is somewhere in the middle, with 36 percent of Vermont students saying they drank alcohol in the previous 30 days on the most recent Youth Risk Behavior Survey.

The survey for parents was conducted in February by Pacific Institute for Research and Evaluation, a non-profit research organization contracted by the Vermont Department of Health.

Results were accumulated statewide as well as regional --with the local results including answers from parents of students in Mount Anthony Union Middle and High School and Arlington Memorial Middle and High School -- with the intention of informing and improving state and local prevention programs.

The survey was completed voluntarily by parents, and MacLaury said that because more than 20 percent of the qualifying parents in the region participated, the results should be representative of the region.

Locally, the results show that 81 percent of middle school parents agree that what they say will influence their child's alcohol use, although only 57 percent said they have spoken with their child at least a few times about alcohol.

The statewide results show that 75 percent of parents have talked to their child about alcohol use at least a few times.

MacLaury said it is concerning that more parents aren't talking to their children about the effects of alcohol, and while it can be a difficult conversation to have it is important to do so.

"I think sometimes parents have trouble finding some time to have a conversation, or they don't know when to do it or its awkward," she said.

With these results and many more, MacLaury said the Partnership will begin a campaign to inform parents and help make that conversation between parents and their children easier.

Through print advertisements, sponsorships and other proactive ways of reaching the public, the Parents Matter! campaign will offer advice such as sitting down as a family for dinner at least four nights a week, being involved in the child's life and keeping liquor cabinets locked.

"We're going to be talking about really easy ways parents can engage with their kids more, which will hopefully build their relationships and allow better communication and facilitate that conversation around alcohol more," she said.

The results of the survey are not online, but anyone who would like to see them can get a copy by contacting the Partnership at 442-5491.

Contact Dawson Raspuzzi at draspuzzi@benningtonbanner.com