MORRIS – Community officials gathered at Morris Community High School’s auditorium Monday to remind parents that any alcohol is too much for a teen.
Grundy County State’s Attorney Jason Helland was present along with School Resource Officer Steve Huettemann of Morris police and representatives from the Alliance Against Intoxicated Motorists and Breaking Free, a coalition that aims to curb teenage drinking and substance abuse.
These officials gathered for the “Underage Drinking: Facing the Facts” town hall meeting held as part of a national initiative known as National Prevention Week for Underage Drinking.
The town hall format gave those in attendance the opportunity to ask questions after hearing each speaker’s points. The open dialogue is what moderator Paula Goodwin of the No Tolerance Task Force hopes will spark involvement and interest with local parents.
“Teen years are when substance abuse and risky behavior begins to take shape,” Goodwin said. “I hear about teens shoplifting their alcohol, and it points to trends that can forever alter their lives.”
Presenters pointed to the long-term physical and psychological effects teen drinking can have. Learning capabilities and memory can be forever affected by indulging in alcohol during developmental stages in life.
“Adolescent’s brains are not fully developed and alcohol can lead to a loss of almost 10 percent of brain power,” said Becky Peterson, a representative from Breaking Free. “Young people that begin drinking before the age of 15 are five times more likely to become alcoholics.”
One of the major points made by all who spoke at the meeting was that teen drinking leads to lifelong habits, which can often drastically degrade the quality of one’s life. Through alcohol abuse, legal and financial problems often become an issue as well as maintaining meaningful relationships.
“Alcohol causes major problems in the lives of those who begin using early and are incapable of creating the healthy habits needed to responsibly handle the drug,” said Kristie Polk of Crossroads Counseling.
“A [driving under the influence charge] can alter the course of a life and be the difference between going to college or staying with a meaningful person,” she continued.
Rita Kreslin, a representative from A.A.I.M., spoke of losing her son, John Kreslin Jr., to an alcohol-related car accident 12 years ago.
“It’s the first thing I think about when I wake up and the last thing I think about before going to bed,” Kreslin said. “Most people don’t think about their actions until it’s too late.”
Kreslin reminded attendees to inform their teens of the very serious consequences drinking can have. By setting strict rules regarding the underage use of alcohol, many problems can be eradicated from their start.
“It’s important to keep an open dialogue about these risks,” Kreslin said.
Helland also reminded parents that his office is an available resource, citing free drug screens and a portable breathalyzer test.
“If you think there might be an issue bring your teen down to my office and we can sort it out on-site,” he said. “My office is looking to prevent all aspects of the negative effects of underage alcohol and substance abuse.”
The town hall meeting had a small turnout, but even if their message only reached one person – it’s worth it, Goodwin said.
“It’s unfortunate that we don’t always have the right people present at these meetings but if we can save one life we’ve done our job,” she said.