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The City Journals

Community leaders model family dinner to prevent underage drinking

Jun 08, 2021 12:25PM ● By Heather Lawrence

A family meal, modeled here by local leaders at a Maceys in Holladay on May 13, is one of the best ways to prevent underage kids from drinking alcohol. (Parents Empowered)

By Heather Lawrence | [email protected]

Leaders from community groups who want to prevent underage drinking met for a “family meal” and panel discussion May 13. The event, held at Maceys in Holladay, was a kickoff for several more planned around the state. The events are meant to model a family conversation at the dinner table. 

“Our messaging through the Parents Empowered campaign is aimed specifically at parents, because their strong disapproval of underage drinking is the number one reason kids choose not to drink,” said Rob Timmerman, moderator for the event. Timmerman is the Salt Lake County Health Department Prevention Director. 

Parents Empowered says studies show children who feel close to their parents are less likely to drink underage. Eating family meals together five to seven times per week helps create that closeness.  

“Mealtime is the perfect place to build the relationships that will start conversations. Not all talks have to be about big topics like underage drinking. But that foundation will lead to those essential conversations,” Timmerman said. 

At the event, leaders sat around a dinner table and answered questions from Timmerman. The group included Utah State Senate President Stuart Adams, Vice President of Associated Retail Operations (which runs Maceys and other grocery stores) Darin Pierce, and Tiffany Clason, Executive Director of the Utah Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control. 

Each group represented had a reason why preventing underage drinking was of value to them. Timmerman said when the idea of creating a coalition among the groups was introduced a few years ago, it was an easy sell. 

“Associated Retail Operations latched on to the idea of a coalition immediately because their mission is to be a responsible retailer. They do sell alcohol, and of course they want their sales to be good. But their mission is that they want the communities they sell to, to be healthy and happy,” Timmerman said.

“The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that around age nine parents start talking to their kids and let them know of their disapproval of underage drinking. Around that age kids start to see marketing that alcohol is associated with fun and happiness. 

“If parents set clear rules, then the kids are going to be less likely to drink alcohol. Parental disapproval is the number one reason kids choose not to drink. It even trumps peer pressure,” Timmerman said.  

The group also modeled using the Chit Chat card decks developed by Parents Empowered.  

“Chit Chat cards are two decks of cards – one for parents and one for kids – that can be used at the dinner table. There are questions kids can ask parents, like, ‘What is the story behind my name?’ And there are questions parents can ask kids, like, ‘What sport would you like to learn?’

“You can use these tools to start a conversation. And that can lead to conversations about clear family rules and your feelings on underage drinking,” Timmerman said. 

“Prevention is important because a teen’s brain is still developing. The longer we can keep kids from alcohol, the less likely they are to develop an addiction or dependency. If kids are kept from alcohol until they’re 21, the likelihood of addiction falls to nearly nothing. 

“In addition to sad stories of families who have dealt with these issues, there are monetary costs associated with teen substance abuse. Costs like incarceration, adjudication and treatment. It’s much less expensive to prevent that early on than treat it down the road,” Timmerman said. 

School districts are required to teach about the harms and effects of substance abuse at three times during public education. The programs are taught in either fourth or fifth grade, again in either seventh or eighth grade, and then finally in either ninth or 10th grade, usually in a health class. 

“The program we use in schools has been tested over 30 years and is one of the most effective drug prevention programs ever created. But successful prevention is a partnership, and we want to support parents and encourage them to play their role in educating their kids,” Timmerman said.