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Published September 30, 2012, 11:36 PM

Taking LEAD against underage drinking: Website helps parents pursue conversations about alcohol use

FARGO – When it comes to messages about alcohol use, parents’ opinions and expectations matter to their kids, and a North Dakota-based underage drinking prevention program wants them to start talking.

By: Sherri Richards, INFORUM

FARGO – When it comes to messages about alcohol use, parents’ opinions and expectations matter to their kids, and a North Dakota-based underage drinking prevention program wants them to start talking.

Parents LEAD (Listen, Educate, Ask, Discuss) provides resources for parents through the website www.parentslead.org. There, parents can find age-specific tips and tools for talking to kids about alcohol use and encouraging healthy living, from toddler to college-age.

Parents are “such a major influence in their children’s life,” says Sharon Query, 4-H Youth Development Specialist with North Dakota State University Extension Service. “Sometimes the message given is it doesn’t make a bit of difference what you say because they’re just going to listen to their friends. … They might not always make the best decision, but they will base their decision on information parents have given them and (parental) expectations.”

Query interacts with parents through a blog on the Parents LEAD website. She also writes monthly emails to each of the six age groups, as well as emails geared to specific life situations, such as divorce or moving. Parents can sign up to receive these emails on the site. There is also a Parents LEAD Facebook page.

“It is our hope that parents will find this website extremely useful,” Query says, adding that the information is research-based and action-oriented. “It’s suggesting something they can do that evening.”

Karin Mongeon, traffic safety manager with the North Dakota Department of Transportation, says she signed up for the monthly emails and has used the site’s conversation jar activity with her 8- and 9-year-old daughters.

“If you follow the information provided through the website, it really does facilitate conversation,” she says.

Parents LEAD originated in the NDDOT office, and last year was redesigned through a partnership with three other agencies: the North Dakota University System Consortium for Substance Abuse Prevention, North Dakota Department of Human Services and the North Dakota State University Extension Service.

“We hope that through the program, by reaching youth at very young ages, that we’re going to change the drinking culture in North Dakota,” Mongeon says. “We want parents to understand their role is vital in reversing the underage drinking trend. They need to start these conversations early on.”

Television and radio ads direct parents to the website. A video produced through Parents LEAD featuring North Dakota university students has been shown to incoming freshmen and their parents at college orientation, says Jane Vengsness Frisch, director of the North Dakota Higher Education Consortium for Substance Abuse Prevention.

In written feedback to the video, many parents say they would have overlooked that conversation without the push from the video, Vengsness Frisch says.

“Even one conversation reduces high-risk consequences,” she says.

Parents LEAD is valuable because it provides a consistent, comprehensive message to parents, Vengsness Frisch says, instead of fragmented bits about drinking and driving, the risks of binge drinking and the legal consequences of underage alcohol use.

“We’re not teetotalers. We’re not saying alcohol is bad and no one should ever consume it,” Vengsness Frisch says. “But it’s important to have those conversations,” throughout a child’s development.

“The more often you talk about it, the easier it is,” she says.

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