Today I am giving a presentation at the release of a new community discussion guide that I am excited about. It is a collaboration between the National Issues Forums and The Leadership Foundation To Keep Children Alcohol Free, which is an organization made up of spouses of governors and former governors.

The discussion guide is called: Childhood Drinking: How Can We Prevent And Reduce The Number Of Children Drinking Alcohol? (Available here as free PDF.) It is meant to help communities deliberate over this issue and develop common ground for action. I am the author.

Underage drinking: How can we prevent and reduce the number of children drinking alcohol?

Underage drinking: How can we prevent and reduce the number of children drinking alcohol?

Here’s an introductory overview, from an abbreviated version:

Alcohol is the drug of choice for America’s youth. By age 15, half of the nation’s children and adolescents will have had a whole drink. Among 15 year olds who do drink, one study shows that on average they binge drink (five drinks or more per session) twice a month.

How many children are drinking that way? According to a federally funded survey conducted by the University of Michigan, 8 percent of eighth graders (13 years old) have binged in the past two weeks, and 18 percent of tenth graders (15 years old) have done so.

Underage drinking is not just a problem for parents to worry about. It can have ripple effects that spread throughout the community. Recent studies indicate that drinking at a young age can derail a person’s later development, which can harm communities.

Childhood drinking is a problem for the entire community. It does not have a single solution. It can increase crime, lower productivity, and raise health care costs.

It must be addressed by many different kinds of people, because solutions will depend on actions by everyday people, community organizations, and government.

Here are three options for addressing childhood drinking, along with the major trade off or drawback to each:

  • Option One: Reach Children With Problems Early — Some children have problems when it comes to alcohol and other issues. We need to find them as early as possible and help them. But: Professionals will intrude in families’ lives; the issue may get pushed underground.
  • Option Two: Remove Access and Incentives — If  we are going to make it so our children don’t drink, we will need to change the community. This includes not only making it harder to get access to alcohol, but also stronger enforcement of the laws. But: We will need more control over children’s day-to-day activities as well as more restrictions on adults’ behavior
  • Option Three: Help Children Through A Difficult Time In Development — We need to help children through the difficult elementary and middle school years so they do not get derailed. But: Responsibility for parenting children will shift from the family to professionals.

Here is an introductory video made using Xtranormal that gives an overview of the options and trade offs:

I enjoyed working on this project and I thank the National Issues Forums and the Leadership Foundation for the opportunity!

To learn more about how to host your own community conversation on this issue, contact the Leadership Foundation.