Editorial: Above the influence

February 8, 2012

Someone at a grocery store last week questioned that teenagers were putting "Stop" stickers on beer and wine.

Why, they asked, are kids giving the rest of us advice?

Why, indeed. The sale and use of alcohol, proper or improper, is a matter affecting people of all ages, and there are youth in our community, members of the Hood River Valley Health Media Club, who are better informed than most of us.

A heart and mind was changed when the Health Media Club spent time delivering a direct but subtle

lesson.

"Sticker Shock" it was called, and it's one of a variety of personal and media-based prevention outreach

efforts by youth that are happening now or forthcoming.

It's all about staying "Above the Influence." Local

students are now engaged in effective ways to apply that national campaign by the Partnership for a Drug-Free America.

Movie theater ads, one-on-one conversations, posters and brochures and participation in hands-on prevention efforts are all part of a scheme that is quietly gathering steam.

In Sticker Shock, the students affix "Stop Sign" stickers, which they designed, to containers reminding customers that there are laws against serving alcohol to minors, as well as against drinking and driving. This was done at Rosauers and Safeway last week, and other retailers have participated in past Sticker Shock

campaigns such as the one for July 4 - like Super Bowl, the other big weekend for alcohol sales.

"The kids are excited to be doing all this," said Shaun Anderson, now in his second year directing a vibrant set of efforts by young people to, yes, teach us all.

The Health Club kids are learning how to talk with adults and with peers about drug and alcohol abuse

prevention. They're boning up on statistics, graphic

design, public speaking, and more skills.

They are striving to raise awareness in their peers and adults about holiday drinking, and ways that youth are unlawfully allowed access to alcohol.

"We have that conversation about what that looks like for them, what they've seen," according to Anderson. The students are versed in Oregon Healthy Teen Data shared by county substance abuse coalitions, and they also study what's going in other states, "as a

strategy to get information out," Anderson said.

"We walk them through the process of why we're doing it, so they can have that conversation," he said.

It works because of cooperation between the school district and law enforcement, the juvenile department, health department and other local and regional entities.

By turning students into advocates, it goes well beyond the old "Just Say No" approach that was well-intentioned but impractical.

In Hood River, the teens are empowering themselves and their peers to learn and respond in healthy ways.

Two forthcoming efforts are the "Dressed up - not messed up" campaign to promote alcohol-free high school proms this spring, and partnership with the Tri-County Hazardous Waste program on a prescription drug take-back day in Hood River County, on a date in May to be announced. Law enforcement agencies and pharmacists will be asked to partner with the students on this.

Meanwhile, the students are designing materials,

including T-shirts, with messages such as "Got choices" (a play on "Got Milk?") and "No drugs are going to pass these lips."

Anderson is also working with the students on another innovative outreach avenue: parents of middle schoolers. Programs for spring music events will be include substance abuse information for parents to read.

"It's one way of telling parents, 'You're the number one person your kids will listen to,'" noted Anderson.

Keep an eye out for these and other examples of projects that make use of the creativity of youth in getting out to peers and the community some messages that we can all learn from.

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