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U NEED 2 KNOW

Nobody’s immune to the consequences of underage drinking. And nobody’s cooler than Justin Bieber. But last week, the 19-year-old superstar was publicly ejected from a Chicago nightclub that allegedly served him alcohol.

Who was watching out for Justin that night? Where were the hordes of adoring Beliebers who’d do absolutely anything to keep him out of harm’s way?

Who watches out for your kids when they’re faced with the tempting idea of taking a drink? Sometimes it’s you.

It’s hard to look the other way when you’re looking at Justin Bieber. It’s not so hard, sometimes, when it’s your own family, at your own backyard party with a cooler full of cold drinks. U Need 2 Know that parents and other adults carry the kuleana for the cooler, the real responsibility to prevent underage drinking and support youth in their effort to stay alcohol-free.

In Hawaii and elsewhere, summer’s the time to relax and enjoy spending time together. Rules might be more flexible. Some kids are allowed to sleep in, play more computer games, or hang out a little later. The rules about underage drinking however are not bent without serious and dangerous consequences.

Twenty-one is the legal drinking age nationwide. Adults who allow underage drinking are breaking the law. It doesn’t matter if it’s your property or elsewhere, if they’re your children or someone else’s, if it’s “only a sip” or you buy the case for them—it’s illegal. Adults can be fined, sentenced to jail time, and be held liable financially for any damages that result.

Adults may also have to pay for their children’s alcohol counseling (since they broke the law, too), and they might have to accompany the underage drinker. Adults will be driving them around for at least 180 days, if youth are unfortunate enough to be caught driving with any measurable amount of alcohol in their blood.

The reason 21 is the legal drinking age is that the adolescent brain, between age 10 to 21, is still growing and developing. Drinking during this stage of life can cause brain damage or worse. Underage drinking is also the leading cause of adult alcoholism; it has been linked to increased violence, poor school performance, drug use, risky sexual behavior, crime, suicide and traffic fatalities. Hawaii Island has the highest per-capita rate of traffic fatalities in the state, and the combination of teens and alcohol on our roads is a deadly one.

And it’s expensive. Nationwide, the cost of underage drinking amounts to $62 billion each year, in medical care and treatment, judicial and legal services and more. Costs in emotional impact, family crisis and loss are much, much higher.

What can I do?

Mothers Against Drunk Driving Hawaii has lots of tips and resources to help you keep your children out of harm’s way, on their website: www.madd.org/underage-drinking.

Here are five:

Step 1: Think of yourself as a coach. Your role in preventing underage drinking is similar to coaching. You can help your teen by:

• Sharing information

• Discussing choices and monitoring behavior

• Helping your teen anticipate and handle challenging situations

• Cheering your teen on to make smart, safe choices

Step 2: Get busy communicating. Begin a series of conversations with your son or daughter—proactively, before he or she gets caught drinking—about how:

• Alcohol is a drug with serious sedative effects

• Drinking has health dangers and other risks for young people

• It is illegal to drink before the age of 21

• You want your teen to be safe and respect the law

• Your teen can plan ways to resist peer pressure to drink

Step 3: Keep track of your teen. You need to know what your teen does after school, at night, and on weekends—and with whom.

• Agree on rules, limits, and consequences

• Monitor all in-person and online activities

• Know your teen’s schedule

• Make sure he or she has your permission for activities

• Talk to parents of kids with whom your teen spends time

• Enforce consequences consistently

Step 4: Show respect and caring. Your teen will respond better when you

• Listen respectfully to his or her ideas and concerns

• Explain that rules, limits, and consequences are meant to protect them

• Help your teen think logically and make smart choices

• Remind your teen how much you love and care about them

Step 5: Be a positive role model. Your teen will be most receptive to your guidance if you lead by example and act responsibly.

• Drive carefully and abide by the rules of the road.

You can also learn more at MADD Hawaii Island’s “Community Power Night,” 5:30-7:30 p.m., Friday, Aug. 9, at YWCA Hilo. With separate tracks for adults, teens and young children, the free event is designed for families, offering parenting workshops, youth leadership and expression activities, and face painting, balloon animals and storytelling for the little ones. For more information, contact Aaron Collins at 934-0300 or aaron.collins@madd.org.

Whether your kids are Beliebers or not, they can learn something from Justin’s mistakes: that adults in their family are watching out for them. All the time. And keeping an eye on the cooler.

The North Hawaii Drug-Free Coalition, a project of Five Mountains Hawaii, is a regional volunteer organization committed to developing strong, sustaining relationships for Healthy Communities Choosing to Live Drug Free. For more information, visit www.fivemountains.org/nhdfc.