Janesville47.7°

Group meets at Edison to discuss underage drinking

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FRANK J. SCHULTZ
April 4, 2008
— Here’s how it will happen:

A cool kid will come up to you. Maybe he’ll invite you to do your English homework together. Then he’ll invite you to a party.


Who wouldn’t want to hang with the cool kids?


At the party, they’ll ask you to drink.


All the cools kids are doing it.


“The peer pressure is outrageous,” said Jordan Hedgecock, 18.


Jordan had the best record on the Parker High School wrestling team as a freshman. At 17, he was busted, charged with possession of marijuana with intent to deliver and expelled.


Between ages 16 and 17, he never missed a day of smoking marijuana, he said at a community meeting Thursday night.


And it started with alcohol.


“When you are drinking, you explore more things you wouldn’t do when you’re sober,” he said. “So I decided to smoke pot.”


Jordan and his mother, Laurie Hedgecock, were living examples for a small group brought together to talk about underage drinking at Edison Middle School.


Partners In Prevention of Rock County organized the event. About 35 people showed up.


Laurie said she and her husband were very involved with their children. They had no problems with their older son.


But drinking led Jordan to pot.


Alcohol also makes young people more likely to have numerous sex partners, ride with a drunken driver, get lower grades or be injured in a suicide attempt, according to statistics cited by the evening’s main speaker, drug-prevention specialist Mark Flottum.


Flottum showed scans of brain activity. The images showed smooth, white brains of nondrinkers and ugly, pockmarked brains of heavy drinkers.


Brains bounce back when a person stops drinking, Flottum said, but no one knows how much is permanently lost.


Jordan knows what he has seen: Star athletes like himself who stop improving. Good students whose grades drop.


Jordan also knows how the drinking starts: While his own father never drank, and his mother rarely, kids see adults dancing and joking when they’re drinking, and they take note.


Think about what kids always say, Jordan said in an interview after the meeting: “I’m bored.”


And when they’re bored, they look for ways to have fun.


“Kids’ main goal from age 1 to 16 is to have fun,” Jordan said. “They never think about the next 30 years.”


Jordan was so into “weed” that he started selling it so he could keep smoking. He said he and others would befriend non-smokers, get them to try it and then sell to them.


Jordan, by the way, has gone through “drug court,” an alternative to criminal prosecution. He has gotten himself clean and is attending TAGOS, an alternative school the district started this year. He looks forward to going to college and becoming a teacher, specializing in at-risk students.


Unknown: How many aren’t as lucky as Jordan.


The latest Janesville School District survey says that 10 percent of eighth-graders got drunk in the previous two weeks. The statistic is 24 percent for 10th graders and 37 percent for 12th graders.


Jordan knows he lied on such surveys. He suspects that for 12th-graders—his class—the numbers are higher.


THE WISCONSIN MENTALITY

Wisconsin leads the nation in binge drinking. And underage drinking.


Mark Flottum grew up in Wisconsin. He knows: There’s rarely an event, from church socials to watching the Packers, that doesn’t include alcohol.


Drinking can be part of joyful celebrations, Flottum acknowledged at a meeting at Edison Middle School on Thursday night. But drinking also is part of so many tragic deaths, including friends he has lost.


So it might seem reassuring that the Janesville School District has one of the leading anti-drug and alcohol programs in the state, said Carrie Kulinski, the district’s coordinator of anti-drug abuse programs.


But those programs won’t do what they’re supposed to do unless kids hear the same message—and see the same example—at home, Flottum and Kulinski agreed.


Flottum, the anti-drug program coordinator for CESA 2, said beer commercials already bombard kids with the wrong message, so it’s important that kids hear the right message as much as possible, from as many sources as possible, and surveys do show that kids actually pay attention to what their parents say.


And do.



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