Craig We've heard the tales and justifications.
"My buddies and I drank as teens at our parent's house and we're all successful, but this other guy I know who wasn't allowed to drink is now a raging alcoholic."
Or, there are the opposite tales. Children who had alcoholic parents but never touched a bottle in their lives.
When it comes to talking about underage drinking, it seems each adult has a story to tell about how he or she reacted to it. It helps justify our view - whatever it may be - of underage drinking.
This is what is called a study of one.
But what do national statistics and science tell us? According to a Youth Wellness Initiative:
• Alcohol is a contributing factor in the four leading causes of teen death - automobile crashes, unintentional injuries, homicide and suicide.
• Alcohol can inhibit teens' brain growth and development, and even short-term or moderate drinking can impair learning ability.
• It increases the risk of drug use, poor school performance, sexual activity and criminal activity. At Columbia University, youths who drank alcohol were 50 times more likely to use cocaine than those who did not. In other words, alcohol can be a gateway drug.
• Children who start drinking before 15 are four to five times more likely to have alcohol dependency as adults.
• Most young people began drinking around 13 to 14, and more than 70 percent of teens have a drink by 18 - three years before it is legal.
Teen alcohol use is a very real problem.
But is it any different in Craig or Moffat County than anywhere else? Is it an issue that we make too much of? Is it a problem that can even be solved? Are there other social ills we should be focusing on instead?
These are all questions editorial board members posed to one another and to Diane Miller, of the VNA and the Youth Wellness Initiative, and Gina Toothaker, of Craig Mental Health, during the past two meetings.
We all had our personal experiences, or our "studies of one," which gave us all different insights. In the end, the answer was yes, something should be done about underage drinking, especially considering its magnitude across the valley.
According to a 2005 Healthy Kids Colorado survey, teens consume alcohol in the Yampa Valley more often than other places. The national average for high school students who have had a drink in the past 30 days is 36 percent. That average jumps to 47 percent of Colorado students, 54 percent of Steamboat Springs students, 68 percent of Moffat County students and 69 percent of Hayden students.
Yes, underage drinking is an age-old problem, but it is a symptom of a bigger disease: A lack of parent empowerment and responsibility, as well as a culture in the valley that, at best, turns a blind eye toward underage drinking.
This is not a cry for prohibition. Rather, it is a cry for responsibility.
So, how can the problem be addressed?
The answer: parents.
Parents who talk to their children, and also walk the talk of responsible alcohol consumption.
Parents who demand that the education system, law enforcement and the judicial system work with them, insisting all entities get on the same page. Only when the entire system works together can long-lasting cultural changes occur.
Parents who don't make excuses about underage drinking being a cultural norm, or worse yet, host parties where teens can get drunk because they believe it is safer for them to be there than someplace else.
By doing so, it ultimately justifies the conduct.
The Youth Wellness Initiative is trying to help provide tools to parents to battle this problem, and working to ensure the various agencies work in unison. For more information, call Diane Miller at 879-1632 or 824-8233.
However, this group can only create a spark. It's up to you to fan the fire.
And to do that, we don't need excuses, or our studies of one, to diminish the problem. Rather, we need stances of one.
Parents individually saying that they will deal with this problem. If nothing else, it will at least help your children.
But on the big scale, if other parents take on the call, you will no longer be an individual person, but part of many with an individual cause.
And know this, it is a worthy cause.