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Nashoba Publishing/John Love
Molly Kalter, community liaison for Groton-DunstableÕs SADD program, talks to the crowd at the Alliance for YouthÕs 2008 National Town Meeting on underage drinking. Listening are GDRHS Athletic Director Dan Twomey and Groton police Lt. Cathi Welch.


GROTON — Spotlighting the problem of alcohol abuse among young people, school, local officials and parents held a “national town meeting” to view a student-produced film on the subject.

Judy Robinson, president of Groton-Dunstable Alliance for Youth (GDAY), opened the meeting with a call for a coordinated effort to combat the attraction of alcohol for young people and a full-court press to get the message out that drinking by minors isn’t a good idea.

Robinson was joined by a panel that included Dr. Richard Lyons, of the Nashoba Valley Medical Center, high school Principal Shelley Cohen, high school health counselor Alice Lenhart, Groton police Sgt. Cathi Welch, Dunstable police Sgt. Darrell Gilmore, Groton-Dunstable Regional School District Athletic Director Dan Twomey, class of 2009 President Michael Oram and high school Students Against Destructive Decisions (SADD) representative Molly Kalter.

Over 100 parents, students and local officials crowded the Black Box Theater at Groton-Dunstable Regional High School for the April 3 event, sponsored by GDAY.

According to statistics yielded by a Youth Risk Behavior Survey conducted in 2006, 7 percent of the district’s sixth-graders, 33 percent of its eighth-graders and more than 43 percent of high-schoolers confessed to drinking alcohol in the month prior to taking the survey.

The brief film, titled “Why do Groton-Dunstable Teens Drink?,” reports that the problem appears greater than the survey indicates: Most of the teens questioned revealed that between 95 to 100 percent of the kids they know drank alcohol.

The perceived use of alcohol by peers is usually greater than the number actually drinking, Robinson said after the film. That said, she pointed out that for small towns like Groton and Dunstable, the primary source of alcohol for teens is private homes. That could be at adult-sanctioned parties or parties held when parents are out of town, she said.

Those facts were confirmed by Welch and Gilmore. Many calls police make are to private homes where such parties are held, they said. They noted that alcohol-related offenses could remain on a person’s criminal record for years even if a person doesn’t actually imbibe, but are merely present at a party where alcohol is served.

“Kids’ first perception of alcohol comes from the home,” said Welch. “Your behavior affects your children’s perceptions. Kids are going to hate you at some point, and if they don’t, then you’re not doing your job.”

Lyons reminded parents that alcohol can be a “disinhibitor” of emotions and social behaviors normally kept in check. He recounted the results of the drunken driving, fighting and simple accidents due to loss of judgment that he often sees in his emergency room.

Oram said not all teens drink, and even if they do, it doesn’t make them bad people.

“Those who do (drink) are great kids who make bad decisions,” he said.

Agreeing, Robinson said the problem isn’t about “who we are as a person.” The pressures teens sometimes feel are more than they can handle, she said.

“Attending the meeting was useful to me,” said parent Wayne Twombley. “It was a shock to me how honest the students (in the film) were about the drinking going on. Young people understand that drinking and driving is not OK, but they don’t seem to care about any other consequences of drinking. To them, it’s OK to drink as long as they don’t drive when they do it.”

“I liked the video, too,” added parent Cathy Dulaney. “It really surprised me that the kids were so honest about their experiences.”

The meeting concluded with a brief presentation by Kalter and fellow student Emily Barbo. They gave parents tips, not only on how to address the issue of alcohol use with their children, but on how to deal with prom night, an occasion usually taken as an excuse by students to drink.

“I think the meeting was wonderful,” said parent Agnes McKinney. “It was informative and very strong. The panel made a very strong point about parents needing to be firm in their convictions about keeping their kids from alcohol.”

It’s important for parents to know the schools and groups such as GDAY will “back them up” in the fight against alcohol abuse by teens, she said.