When it comes to underage drinking in Pennsylvania, there are concerning statistics.
According to the 2019 Pennsylvania Youth Survey, 46.9 percent of 12th-graders were willing to try alcohol before 21, and over 40 percent of eighth- and 10th-graders reported their primary source for alcohol was taking it without permission.
In an effort to curb this growing issue, No Longer Bound is partnering with the Bucks County Drug & Alcohol Commission to host the inaugural Bristol Youth Summit.
Set for Thursday, May 13, from 6 to 8:30 p.m., the free, virtual event is open to fifth-grade students and their parents who are residents of Bristol Township and Bristol Borough. Parents will learn how to talk to their children about the often-taboo topic of alcohol, while kids will learn how to say “no” through educational yet fun sessions.
“One of the reasons why we are targeting in our virtual summit fifth grade is because we’re trying to get ahead of the curve,” explained Sharon McCoy, youth prevention coordinator consultant at No Longer Bound. “A lot of the information in the PAYS survey covers sixth-graders and up. Fifth-graders, because they’re going to be moving into a new phase or maybe a new school, they might be dealing with the stress and anxiety that comes with being around new people.”
The summit will teach students how to cope with this stress in a safe and healthy way instead of turning to alcohol and other substances. Interactive breakout sessions exclusive to the kids will include “Risks of Underage Drinking and Refusal Skills” by No Longer Bound’s Teen Prevention Task Force; “Healthy Relationships” by A Woman’s Place; “Drug Trends & Hip Hop Fundamentals” by Drug Enforcement Administration; and “Where to Find Help and Support” by Bristol Cares. Each is slated to last 15 to 20 minutes.
As for the parents, their sessions will include “Behind Closed Doors” by the Bensalem Police Department, who will explain warning signs to look for in a child’s bedroom; “Underage Drinking” by The Council of Southeast PA; “Talking to Your Kids About Alcohol” by Family Service Association of Bucks County; and “Drug Trends” by Drug Enforcement Administration.
“We really want to make sure that not only students have the information, but parents as well. Parents are the No. 1 indicator in their kids not getting involved in these risky behaviors, especially at that younger age,” said Damita Harvey, prevention coordinator at No Longer Bound. “They listen to their parents.”
Harvey added that many parents feel uncomfortable getting into a discussion about alcohol with their elementary or middle schooler. However, they should do it sooner rather than later.
“Kids as young as 8 years old may be asked to drink alcohol,” said Harvey. “So if you’re waiting until middle school to start talking to them about alcohol, it’s a little bit too late. If they don’t hear it from you first, they’re going to hear it from their friend.”
The summit will also feature a keynote presentation titled “Power of Prevention” by Diane Rosati, executive director of the Bucks County Drug & Alcohol Commission, and Bucks County District Attorney Matt Weintraub. A premiere viewing of the winning student video from a recent underage drinking video contest, as well as a Q&A period, will conclude the event.
In addition to the upcoming summit, No Longer Bound recently offered a 10-week virtual program for Bristol Township fifth-graders called “Too Good for Drugs and Violence.” Students learned how to make goals and decisions, handle emotions and manage conflict.
They also learned about the risks and consequences associated with alcohol and gateway drugs, and a slew of refusal tactics. Since the human brain isn’t developed until the age of 25, development could be stunted if alcohol is introduced into the system too early.
“It could cause damage,” said Harvey. “And we know that if they are under age 13 and they start drinking, they are more likely to develop a problem as they get older.”
No Longer Bound, headquartered at 1230 Norton Ave., Bristol, has been empowering the community to address alcohol, drug use and other anti-social behavior through training and education since 1991. Harvey said the nonprofit is always looking for mentors and youth participation. Visit facebook.com/nolongerbound, email email@example.com or call 215-788-9511 for more information.
Samantha Bambino can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org