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Nashoba Publishing/John Love
Judy Robinson, coordinator of the Groton/Dunstable Alliance for Youth, and district health coordinator, talks about the risks of young people and alcohol use.
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GROTON — At a special Town Meeting held Monday night, community leaders, parents and students came together to discuss the growing problem of alcohol abuse among district students.

The meeting was called by local community organization GDAY (Groton-Dunstable Alliance for Youth) in response to alarming trends in alcohol use by young people. Not only have they been the victims of a growing cultural acceptance of alcohol but they are often aided and abetted by adults who ought to know better.

Parents, said David Tellier, a parent himself and one of eight panelists hosting the meeting, are not doing their job in checking up on their children. Fear of embarrassing their children in front of peers or of seeming not to trust them, prevent many from following up on their children’s whereabouts.

“It’s tough,” acknowledged Tellier. “It’s hard to make sure they’re going to a safe place.”

Fellow panelist and former School Committee member Karen Riggert admitted that living in small towns with little to do adds to the problem.

Panelist and student Devon McGowan gave cause for hope. Most young people really are concerned about not coming up short in the eyes of their parents, he said.

“My parents trust me as an adult,” he said, “and in turn, I never want to disappoint them.”

The evening was prompted by release of the results of a Youth Risk Behavior Survey conducted by Emerson Hospital that involved over 1,100 Groton-Dunstable students. Results yielded information that in some respects was encouraging while in others, disappointing.

Groton-Dunstable students joined many of their peers in seven other local communities to help draw a picture of teen activities. Categories ranged from Internet use and safety to bullying, alcohol, drugs and sexual behavior.

Among disappointing results were indications of continued alcohol use by an ever younger group of children. Although there was a decline in the consumption of alcohol from 58 percent in 2000, 43 percent still reported its use in 2006.

Alcohol use by eighth-graders declined from 26 percent in 2000 to 17 percent in 2006.

The survey offered some grim statistics including the finding that 31 percent of students in grades nine through 12 reported attending parties where alcohol was allowed by supervising adults. Eight percent of students in grade eight reported the same phenomenon.

“I think one of the big issues with drinking is that kids are getting their drivers’ licenses and are able to get away with it,” said McGowan.

According to panelist Sgt. Cathi Welch of the Groton Police Department, such parties are not uncommon. Often, she added, parents do not know that their children are attending parties where alcohol is being served.

“Their parents trusted their children,” said Welch, “but really had no idea where they were.”

More and more, Welch reported, police have been finding that children know the “cool parents” in the community that allow young people to consume alcohol in their homes.

“I think what we do as adults is huge,” observed parent Jackie Maguire.

“I think it’s important to remember that with everything you’re doing, you’re being watched (by your children),” said the event’s moderator Bonnie Biocchi, of how children take their cues from the adults around them.

Many cues are coming from modern American culture, graphically conveyed in a short film entitled “This Place.” In it, young people give their reasons for being involved in the alcohol culture and the negative results that ensued.

The film portrays society at-large and the media in particular as major culprits in the social acceptance of public drinking.

From the wide range of increasingly flavorful alcoholic beverages to sponsorship of local events such as fairs and shows, the industry creates a “user-friendly environment” for alcohol and subtly influences young people to accept its use as an ordinary and expected part of daily life.

“I thought the video was really good,” observed Kaitlyn Mungovan, a student at Groton-Dunstable. “It definitely made a big impact. It’s message was pretty strong. I think it opened up people’s eyes as to what is going on as opposed to what they think is going on.”

“The whole town meeting was really good,” agreed fellow student Kristina Csaplar. “It brought up a lot of issues, and all of my questions at least, were answered.”

“I thought the mix of students, parents and community together made for a great start,” said GDAY coordinator Judy Robinson at the conclusion of the town meeting.

“There was good discussion,” she said. “Now we need to do some action-oriented problem-solving.”

For those interested in learning more about alcohol abuse by young people or who would like to know what they can do to help, Robinson can be reached at (978) 448-6362.

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