KEARNS — Community leaders in Utah hope kids and parents will dive into underage drinking prevention this summer — literally.
Teens who drink alcohol by the age of 15 are more than 40% more likely than those who don't to develop an alcohol dependency later on in life, Salt Lake County Health Department prevention director Rob Timmerman noted.
"If we get kids all the way to 21 without introducing alcohol to their brain, those kids are virtually unlikely to ever develop a dependency. So this is all about developing brains and giving kids an opportunity to fulfill their potential," Timmerman said as he and others announced a new campaign at the Kearns Oquirrh Park Fitness Center on Friday.
As part of the Evidence2Success and Parents Empowered campaign, a mural on a 30-foot dive tower at the fitness center pool pictures seahorses and the messages "No horsing around" and that alcohol harms young brains. Signs with similar messages have been placed around the recreation center.
Adrian Miranda, a member of the Evidence2Success Youth Council, explained that he and his peers face "a lot of temptation, especially like parties going on. It's usually, you go out on a Friday night and unless you have plans, it's like, 'What are you going to do?' It's presented as an activity."
"The more you get teens involved in extracurriculars, all that time they would have alone, they're spending somewhere else," the Kearns High School student said.
He urged parents not to feel uncomfortable talking about underage drinking and substance use with their kids.
"Because it's seen as sort of like an adult issue or an adult subject, but it's everybody (who's affected)," Miranda said.
Kearns Oquirrh Park Fitness Center Executive Director Kevin Schmidt said that more than anything, he hopes the campaign inspires parents to take up the underage drinking prevention cause.
"Parents are the key component. We need parents to be involved, we need parents to be a part of their kids' lives. Don't just drop them off to us and expect that your work is done. Don't just drop them off to schools and expect that your work is done. You need to be part of the messaging, and when you as parents participate in their activities, what they find interesting, then they're going to be more apt to listen to you," Schmidt said.
"These campaigns are so important, because what we do see out here is that this is a very difficult conversation. We see this with alcohol, and we see this with drugs, and just substance abuse in general. So what this does, it empowers parents to have that conversation, and it also sends that message that parents are not by themselves, right? There's resources out there, we are out there for them, and it just opens that door," Kearns Mayor Kelly Bush said.
The community as a whole faces consequences due to underage drinking, she noted.
"The cracks that kids are falling through have already been identified, and we have the facts and the numbers to back all of that up. So this will allow me to spend less time and energy troubleshooting and more time working with my colleagues to address and resolve the issues at the root," said Rep. Ashlee Matthews, D-West Jordan.
Becky Guertler, Evidence2Success chairwoman, noted that 40% of Kearns' population is under age 18.
"That's a big number, that's a big part of our population, and we want to make sure that we have parents who have the tools and the wherewithal to know how to talk to their kids, and I love the Parents Empowered messaging where they really encourage parents to spend 15 to 20 minutes a day with each kid, to dive into their world, see life through their lives," Guertler said.