Archive for Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Shawnee, Johnson County pair up for campaign to stop underage drinking

July 7, 2015

Purple banners have popped up around Shawnee with a simple message: "Talk, it matters" in hope of stirring up conversations between parents and their children about underage drinking.

The signs are part of a Johnson County Mental Health Center campaign to stop underage drinking. Prevention coordinator Sue Matson said the average age of a child in Johnson County who starts drinking is 13, and the negative effects of underage drinking can be long lasting

Matson said that age is particularly vulnerable for several reasons. One, they are transitioning from middle school to high school. Another, parents sometimes think that they are beginning to lose influence on their children at this age and do not talk with them about drugs and alcohol.

"This campaign is to empower parents and encourage parents to have these talks with their kids," Matson said.

Shawnee is one of several organizations to partner with the Johnson County Mental Health Center for the campaign and has posted banners at City Hall, the police station, the Shawnee Convention Center and at both city-operated pools.

“Shawnee is a family-oriented community so it was a natural fit for us to be a part of this campaign," said Shawnee's Communications Manager Dan Ferguson. "These are important messages for parents and kids and we are hoping that by donating our space that we can help to successfully educate the public on this issue.”

The Johnson County Mental Health Center website offers information and videos for parents and teens with expert analysis from regional doctors, specialists and law enforcement as well as tips for parents to discuss any issues related to underage drinking with their children.

Videos on the website include a sit-down with Dr. Lore Nelson, Kansas University Associate Professor of Pediatrics, who engages in a roundtable discussion with middle and high school students from across Johnson County about the impact of alcohol and drug use on the developing brain. According to Nelson, the teenage years are a critical time for brain development. Areas of the brain responsible for long-term thinking, planning, memory and emotion are all changing during this time, and alcohol can interfere with these changes.

Matson said teens who drink alcohol during this time in their lives run the risk of having problems with decision making, learning and memory and are also more prone to developing addictions to alcohol and other substances later in life.

She said that simply talking with young teens about alcohol can dramatically reduce the rates of drinking among teens by as much as 50 percent.

For more information about the "Talk, it matters" campaign, visit jocogov.org.

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