As you might remember from reading Away We Went, Part 1, four students accompained Kelley and I to the Enforcement of Underage Drinking Laws conference in Orlando this August. Below is Miranda's account of the what touched her the most at the conference.
My experience at the 13th National Enforcement of Underage Drinking Laws (EUDL) Leadership Conference in Orlando was unforgettable for many reasons. We all learned prevention strategies and ideas that we have brought back to Clinton, and we all had experiences we’ll never forget. The thing that touched me the most was the Youth Session we had on the first day. A woman who I’d seen around with her young son over the course of the previous evening and that morning came to tell us about her daughter, Taylor. Taylor was a 17-year-old high school senior when one wrong decision cost her her life. After her school’s homecoming football game, Taylor decided to go to a party in the woods with some other kids. There was alcohol there, provided by one of the kid’s older brothers, and Taylor drank with everyone else. Taylor eventually got so drunk that she did not know where she was or how to get home, and her friends laughed at her. Nobody who was less drunk or not drinking at all helped Taylor get home that night and she ended up drowned in water only up to her knees. Watching Taylor’s mother talk about the daughter she lost and hearing about Taylor’s older and younger brothers and how much they miss their sister touched me because Taylor is remembered as a good girl who made a bad choice. If we learn from Taylor’s story, what we should not do to prevent underage drinking is try to help ‘bad kids,’ but we should help all kids make the right decisions. Even if one of the other kids at the party had decided to help Taylor when she was obviously too drunk to know what was happening, she would still be alive today. We need not only to teach kids how to make positive decisions for themselves, but to help their friends who are in danger.
One technique we learned about in Florida and would like to take back to Clinton is social norming. In layman’s terms, social norming is taking statistics and flipping them around. Rather than saying 37% of Clinton 7-12th graders drink, highlight the 63% of Clinton 7th-12th graders who choose not to drink. The community in Midland, TX used a little gorilla-like character called Leon Neon to use this technique on teen tobacco use in the area. Leon is just a little character with an ‘84’ on his chest and he got a lot of press before the meaning of the number was even released. We would like to try the same method in Clinton with a similar character to help show that not ‘everybody’ or even most kids in Clinton drink.
The most disturbing thing I learned at the EUDL conference was about ‘alco-pops.’ Alcoholic energy drinks are easily disguised as non-alcoholic, and sometimes even store clerks who sell them do not even know the difference, but in reality they are extremely dangerous. We learned in a workshop facilitated by MADD Youth in Action of Kentucky that one 24oz. single serving can of an alcoholic energy drink is equal to drinking 5.7 Bud Lights. That’s a whole 6 pack in a can! Two of those in an hour can make the drinker’s blood alcohol content 0.30%, rendering them either comatose or dead.
What I learned at the EUDL conference made me more aware of what kids in my community need and what works in the fight against underage drinking.