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Town Hall meeting features advice on kids and alcohol

Jon Silvers, 14, left and his brother Garrett, 15, of St. Petersburg play with a pair of goggles designed to simulate the impairment caused by alcohol at Gibbs High School on Tuesday. “It’s kind of confusing,” said Garrett.

EDMUND D. FOUNTAIN | Times

Jon Silvers, 14, left and his brother Garrett, 15, of St. Petersburg play with a pair of goggles designed to simulate the impairment caused by alcohol at Gibbs High School on Tuesday. “It’s kind of confusing,” said Garrett.

ST. PETERSBURG — They hope to squash the horror stories and front-page tragedies.

Children drinking. Teens mixing pills and booze. The accidents, the addictions, the death.

Community activists gathered at Gibbs High School on Tuesday night to speak at Florida's Kids and Alcohol: A Town Hall Meeting. They spread tips and information to help teens and parents combat substance abuse. The audience chimed in with questions.

The special will air at 9 p.m. April 30 on WEDU. Here are excerpts of the discussion.

Can you keep children out of the liquor cabinet?

Locking the cabinet violates trust, but you have to pay attention, the panel said. "If you suspect anything going on, it never hurts to mark your bottles," said Carol Conaway, who serves on the state PTA board. And if your own kids throw a party, "You have to be there," said Scott Sitton, a Hillsborough County sheriff's deputy. "Not locking yourself in the back bedroom."

If they're away from home?

Put yourself in the action, said Gina Firth, associate dean of students at the University of Tampa. Go to the door and meet the parents. Get phone numbers and stay apprised of plans throughout the night. "I do trust my children, but I'm also going to give them the boundary of verifying," she said.

Should you let kids drink under your roof?

"That logic just doesn't resonate with me," said Doretha Jackson, president of the Florida Association of Partners in Education. "You can't drive at 12. Would you let them drive at 12 or 8 just because they're under your supervision?"

What if they argue that the drinking age is unfair?

"Your brain is not developed, yet alcohol keeps it from developing," said St. Petersburg police Officer Janie Staples. And, "High school aged individuals commonly, if not regularly, drink with the goal of getting drunk," not responsibly, said Rafael Miguel, a doctor and University of South Florida professor.

How can kids stand up to peer pressure?

It's important to have a strong identity, said Melissa Thomas, 17, a senior at the Pinellas County Center for the Arts. "People can tell when you can be influenced. If you are doubtful about it, someone is going to pinpoint it and prey on you for it."

When should you start talking to your children?

As soon as possible. "The word 'medicine' is very benign to a child," said Firth. "But they need to understand that this is a drug."

What if you're not happy with state alcohol laws?

Work at a local level to create ordinances and contact lawmakers. "Anybody in the Legislature will tell you that if they hear from 10 people, they think it's a hot issue," said Conaway. "The message we need to send is, don't wait until it's too late."

Stephanie Hayes can be reached at shayes@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8857.

Town Hall meeting features advice on kids and alcohol 04/21/09 [Last modified: Tuesday, April 21, 2009 11:19pm]
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