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To stop underage drinking, start before it begins

If parents haven’t yet talked to their fifth- or sixth-grade students about underage drinking, it might be too late.

The average age that children begin drinking is fifth and sixth grade, said David Moore, a psychology professor at Argosy University in Seattle with a background in chemical dependency.

Those first experiences with alcohol can shape the way children view alcohol for the rest of their lives, possibly leading them to become involved with risky drinking behaviors.

“Basically most of the kids’ choices about drinking have already been made by the eighth grade,” said Moore, who is also a parent at Enterprise Elementary in Federal Way and project director for the Wonderwood Community Coalition.

In an effort to stop risky underage drinking before it begins, Moore and other community leaders hosted a town hall meeting on underage drinking at Enterprise last week.

Officers from the Federal Way Police Department, along with local ministers and counselors, answered questions and spoke about how to prevent underage drinking. Nearly 1,500 communities across the country hosted similar events this spring as part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Surgeon General’s Call to Action.

Approximately half of 15-year-olds reported having consumed alcoholic beverages before, according to a 2006 Surgeon General’s report. Children who start drinking at a young age are more likely to suffer from dependence or problem drinking as they get older.

The goal of last week’s event was for parents to take what they learned back into their own neighborhoods and work to make a change, Moore said. If you wait until high school to start talking to children about alcohol, then you won’t be working on prevention — you will be working on problem-solving, he said.

Stacy Traylor, a counselor at Enterprise, said substance prevention education begins in kindergarten with smoking prevention.

“We’ve got to have it be part of the culture that tobacco’s not OK, and that starts before they pick up a cigarette,” Traylor said.

The Wonderwood Prevention Coalition has been working to prevent drug abuse in southeast Federal Way for four years. Parents and PTA members at Enterprise, Rainier View, Lakeland, Sherwood Forest and Panther Lake elementary schools, as well as Illahee Middle School, are involved in the project.

Contact Margo Horner: mhorner@fedwaymirror.com or (253) 925-5565.

Learn more:

For more information or to get involved with the Wonderwood Prevention Coalition, call Nicole Moore at (253) 831-6596 or e-mail nmoore@fwps.org.

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