Recently our YEAGA and ALTA youth conducted a survey of Latino teenagers and parents in Placer County to try and better understand teens’ perspectives on alcohol use. What we found was troubling, and serves as a call for our community to look introspectively at how we facilitate underage drinking.
Of the youth interviewed, 60 percent stated that they thought it was okay for them to drink alcohol before the age of 21. And only 46 percent of teens thought underage drinking posed a great risk of harm to them. 21 percent actually believed that it posed absolutely no risk of harm whatsoever.
That means most of our kids are drinking alcohol and many don’t think there will be any consequences.
What is surprising is that most of the kids (66 percent) are getting their alcohol at family events, their friends’ houses and even their own homes. We often turn a blind eye at quinceañeras, weddings and other events when our kids sneak a drink. Some parents even let their kids celebrate with a little alcohol at those events, thinking that it’s a safe environment and that it’s somehow a rite of passage. In the kids’ minds though, we’re condoning this behavior and telling them that it’s okay to drink as a minor.
Making the situation more difficult is the fact that many of the parents in our communities who emigrate from Latin American countries find it difficult to navigate the incongruences between the drinking laws in the United States and those in their country of origin. Many grew up with 18 as the legal drinking age and see no moral or health reasons with their 18 or 19 year old son or daughter drinking alcohol.
Yet underage drinking can lead to the youth having altercations with law enforcement, incarceration and significantly adverse consequences to their future. Studies show that a 17 year old who drinks alcohol has double the risk of developing an addiction than someone who does not drink until after 21 years of age. Given that our Latino communities struggle with alcohol addiction, we need to do all we can now to lessen these risks for our youth.
Furthermore, parents are exposed to serious legal consequences as well. Any adult, including parents, who provides alcohol to an underage person, can be arrested for contributing to the delinquency of a minor.
The Latino Leadership Council has produced a Spanish-language brochure to help educate Latino parents about the issues of underage drinking in our community. The Spanish brochure goes over some of the survey findings and gives tips to parents about how to prevent their kids from consuming alcohol.
This is an important issue to address in our community and one that leads to many other problems and concerns, so we urge you to join us in reducing underage drinking.