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Sobering duty for parents

Revere seeks pledge to curb youth drinking

Revere is using new technology and the power of a pledge to better involve parents in the fight against underage drinking.

Tomorrow evening, parents of Revere's 6,000 schoolchildren will receive a special recorded phone message from Superintendent Paul Dakin. In it, Dakin will outline a new initiative to encourage parents of students aged 9 to 13 to sign pledges on how they will help prevent their children from using alcohol.

The pledge campaign is the latest step in an initiative launched last year by Revere CARES to raise awareness among parents about the dangers and prevalence of underage drinking and to get them more involved in curbing it.

Revere CARES -- Community Awareness Resources and Education to Prevent Substance Abuse -- is a seven-year-old coalition of residents, community groups, and professionals that works to reduce substance abuse among the city's youth. It is funded by Massachusetts General Hospital and by federal grants.

While the pledge is aimed at parents of children 9 to 13, all parents are welcome to sign. In his message, Dakin will inform parents that Revere CARES volunteers will be present with pledge cards at parent-teacher sessions scheduled for Thursday at the elementary and middle schools and Nov. 22 at the high school.

''Knowledge is the key to any successful society," Dakin said last week. ''The more we can make parents aware about the data we have on teenage alcohol use and consumption and drug use, the more proactive we hope they can be with us."

He said the hope is that parents will understand ''that their children are much at risk and that discussions around alcohol and drugs should constantly be a two-way give and take with their child."

Revere CARES director Kitty Bowman said the anti-underage drinking program, called the Power to Know, was initiated by the group in response to two surveys in 2001.

One of them was a state survey on youth risk behavior that found there had been an increase in underage drinking in nearly all categories in Revere. The other, a survey undertaken jointly by the city and MGH, recorded parental attitudes in the city about underage drinking.

''When we took the two surveys together, we found that in the age group of 11 to 13 years old, 25 percent reported having been drunk and 51 percent reported having [engaged in] drinking," Bowman said. But among parents of children in that age group, 88 percent said their child had not engaged in drinking.

''We knew we had an education problem," Bowman said.

''There is a blind faith that parents have that 'It's not my child,' " Dakin said. ''Kids don't tell their parents everything they do."

Said Bowman: ''A lot of parents think, 'Thank God it's alcohol and not drugs.' We really want parents to understand that alcohol is a dangerous drug and that it often leads to greater drug use as well as increased sexual activity, violence, and suicidal thoughts."

She said children who drink also are more likely to become alcohol-dependent as adults.

While the surveys highlighted a problem among children 11 to 13, Revere CARES decided to target parents of children 9 to 13 because ''we want to get to parents before kids start drinking," Bowman said.

The first part of the campaign sought to encourage parents, through banners and newspaper ads, to ask their children the ''who, what, where, and when" questions related to their activities.

A promise to ask those questions is included in the pledge. But the pledge goes further to state that parents will regularly spend time and have fun with their children; talk with them about their day and concerns; and talk to them about the consequences of using tobacco, alcohol, and other drugs.

In addition, the parents pledge to talk to other parents about underage drinking; involve their children in structured activities; know their children's friends and their families; and let their children know they can come to them with any question. They also pledge not to abuse alcohol or to allow alcohol abuse or underage drinking in their home.

School Committee member Carol Tye, a member of Revere CARES and a former Revere superintendent, is thrilled with Dakin's involvement, which she said is a statement of his and the committee's support for Revere CARES and the initiative.

The message to parents is that ''You are the best line of defense with your kids in terms of protecting them against underage drinking, despite the way they may act," said Diane Barry of Education Development Center, a Newton nonprofit that is serving as a consultant to Revere CARES on the campaign.

One goal of the campaign is to ease the sense of isolation some parents feel. Parents who do not talk regularly with other parents, Bowman said, often let their children do something -- such as attend a party -- based on the incorrect assumption that other parents are doing the same.

As part of the pledge campaign, Revere CARES plans to print ads listing parents who have signed the pledge and consented to having their names published.

Mary Ann Zizzo, a Revere CARES volunteer and parent of two, said a goal of the campaign is that by the time a child reaches the ''upper adolescent ages," the activities discussed in the pledge will have become ingrained in the household.

''If we can get all parents on the same page to use the pledge, kids will be so accustomed to it will be like an everyday occurrence," she said.

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