AC3 Podcast Episode 2Author: Vicki Ballas
AC3 discussion with Linda Remsberg and Van Ouellette-Ballas on underage drinking and drug use.
May 13, 2021
Welcome to the Alger County Communities That Care podcast series. I am Vicki Ballas, Alger and Marquette County Community Nutrition Instructor from Michigan State University Extension. MSU Extension is partnering with Alger County Communities That Care or AC3 for short, to provide informative and real conversations from our community. Ac3 is a coalition of community members working together to keep Alger County united and thriving by providing programs and resources that promote a safe, healthy, and prosperous environment for all youth and adults in Alger County. Today we have two guests on our panel, Linda Remsberg from Grow and Lead Community and Youth Development and Van Ouellette- Ballas a former student from Munising Public Schools, and my son, welcome, and thank you for participating in our podcast.
Linda Remsberg: Thank you.
Van Ouellette-Ballas: Thanks for having me.
Vicki: Because it is drug and alcohol facts week, while recording this, We the AC3 thought it would be a good opportunity to talk about two of the risk factors that the AC3 is addressing. One is parent attitudes that favor drug use and the other is youths perceived risk of drug use. Linda, did you want to start with trying to explain what this means to our listeners?
Linda: Sure. So AC3 does a survey every two years with 6th, 8th, 10th, and 12th graders throughout Alger County, we measure the risk factors that kinda promote risky behaviors in young people. And we also look at the protective factors, things that help protect our young people from taking on risky type behaviors, such as drug and alcohol use. In those two data points that Vicki mentioned. We'll talk a little bit about those and what the data shows. So youths perceived risk of drug and alcohol use, looks at how risky our kids view using drug and alcohol. So the survey shows that the percentage of our kids who do not see drug and alcohol use as risky, has risen significantly since 2014 across all grade 6th, 8th, 10th, and 12th. Around 70 percent of our kids feel that it isn't very risky to use alcohol, tobacco, and marijuana. And it's much higher than the national norm, which is around 50 percent. So 15 percent more of our kids than the national norm think it's not very risky, so that's a problem. They don't see the risk in it then why not do it? And then the other piece of that is the parents attitudes that favorite drug and alcohol use. So the survey asks how wrong students think their parents feel it would be for them, for the kids to drink alcohol or to smoke cigarettes or marijuana. In almost half, 49.5% of all of the 12th graders that were surveyed said they think their parents don't feel that's very wrong for them to do those things. And that's 12 percent higher than the national norm. A third of our eighth graders feel the same way that their parents don't think that it's wrong for them to use drugs and alcohol. And that jumped dramatically since 2014, when only 18 percent of the, the eighth graders said that, and now it's 1 third of them, 33 percent and the sixth, and tenth graders interestingly, we're right around the national norm, which is about 28%. But our 12th graders, those that are graduating and going out in the world, their parents think it's okay for them to to do that sort of thing.
Vicki: This is exactly why I invited my son to this podcast because he informed me that during many of the graduation parties that he went to his senior year, adults offered him an alcoholic drink. Van can you tell us about your experience at these grad parties?
Van: Yes. So obviously, a grad party is a celebration. It's gotta be held somewhere and it's most likely going to be held at your parents house, and I believe that these parents think that they're doing a good job at keeping everything in check, make sure no one's getting hurt or I guess doing damage to themselves. Though the parents are trying to protect kids graduating in doing that makes those kids believe that alcohol isn't such a big deal. You know, your parents are out there getting drunk along with you and that's definitely not something we should be supporting.
Vicki: And I've heard parents saying this is that they allow kids to drink at their parties because they think they can monitor it.
Van: I really think that's just making it worse by doing that. The kids think it's more okay to do that.
Linda: right, it's normalizing that behavior.
Van: Yeah, exactly.
Vicki: So parents gave you alcohol, they offered it to you readily while you were at parties?
Van: Yeah, absolutely. There just along side, you get drunk at a party, you know.
Vicki: did you feel like that situation was safe?
Van: Absolutely not! I think it was just made worse. I was just honestly really uncomfortable when I saw parents making it fine to drink in front of their kids and I mean, more or less get drunk with them.
Vicki: So you go to these parties. People would just say, hey Van you want a beer or what or a shot or what would they offer you?
Van: They just tell you where the cooler is, and that you're welcome to any of it and they're really friendly about it most the time. I honestly never went to a grad party that their parents weren't helping them drink. That's like what you do. That's the culture. That's what everyone thinks is okay, I guess, and it just makes that behavior excepted.
Vicki: what would happen, would you ever say like No thanks?
Van: Yeah, absolutely. And honestly so, you know, your friends aren't going to they might joke around, but they're not going to really force you to drink. They would never, don't hang out with those people if that's happening. Obviously, it seemed to me that the parents pressured me more than anyone else. They would several times asked me if I wanted to drink and why I wasn't and I don't really understand that, to be honest, I don't get why you would want someone under age to drink so badly, it doesn't really make any sense to me. But it happens very often.
Vicki: Was it uncomfortable to say "no" to them?
Van: Yeah. Because you respect these people and there... They want you to respect them. They're older than you. Just from being a kid, you are told the respect people who are older than you. I mean, it's the same thing when you go to their house and they offer you a beverage or anything, you feel disrespectful to say no, and it's the same. It's even more with alcohol you know, Vicki and Linda: Wow! but so I definitely think that parents have a big deal with starting their kid on a alcohol, because if you start in high school, that's what you know is drinking. So when you go into college and you're away from your parents and you could do whatever you want, you know, most likely you're going to turn to alcohol for fun if that's what you're used to.
Vicki: When Van told me he had his first beer from an adult at a grad party I was just absolutely enraged! When he told me this, I never thought an adult or another parent would be the one that gave my son his first beer, as a parent I worked very hard at protecting my children from all kinds of things and especially drug and alcohol use. And to find out that another parent took that away from me, I just felt so betrayed by this parent! And I just... I kind of expected it from other youth, you know, that that's where I had to get concerned about and that's where my kids would maybe experience their first alcohol use, but definitely not from a parent. And then I learned that this seemed to be the norm. I had to take some kind of action. So this is why we're talking about this today. To inform parents and youth that this is not okay! Now this is not the norm that we want for our children. It's illegal. It's very harmful to our youth, it's setting them up to not be successful! You're going to college, now you're, it's okay..... you've been given this message, It's okay to drink and it's even expected at college. And it becomes harder for you to be independent and say no to those things. Yeah. I just I lost my mind! I found out about the prevalence of adults pushing alcohol on our youth, that something has to be done and we have to talk about it. Let's get this out in the open. I know that a lot of parents, they just think it's okay to do it in front of them, that they can be controlled, they're not driving, but that is not the message we're sending to our kids. The message we are sending is that it is okay to do this. Linda, I was hoping that maybe you could talk about the harm that drug and alcohol use is to
Linda: Yeah. Sure.
Vicki: Undeveloped brains in our children?
Linda: Yes. Studies show that kids brains, the human brain is not fully developed until well into the twenties. And young people, those particularly under 21, are much more vulnerable to addiction. The way the brain hasn't developed yet, that it's very sensitive to addiction when young people drink, I mean, it's damaging the brain and yes, it can lead to addiction. In fact, it's like 90% of people who are addicted to drugs and alcohols started using before the age of 21. And so that's like nine out of 10 addictions started before the age of 21. So, you know, if we can keep kids from drinking until they are adults, at the legal age of 21. They're much less likely to have problem use as adults.
Van: As a young adult, you're learning how to deal with your feelings and the way that you handle everyday problems. And when you start using alcohol to handle those problems and handle the feelings that are involved with everyday life. If you use alcohol, most likely that's what you're going to continue to use. And it keeps you from progressing as a person and understanding your feelings in a way that effects you and that throws you off I think , it really kills the potential of what you're capable of. Linda: Oh, for sure. I mean, it it can cause all sorts of problems, legal problems, relationship problems. We know from the survey that the AC3 does that our kids have very high levels of anxiety and depression these days, which leads to substance use, to self-medicate too. We don't want to help kids go down that path. There's nothing that is good that will come out of that.
Vicki: What are the positive things that we can do for our youth and what can they do for themselves to not go down that path?
Linda: Okay. I'll talk a little bit. I mean, as far as what adults can do, I think probably the number one thing is to model positive behavior. Don't do it...offer kids alcohol or marijuana, or what have you at a young age, just don't do it. It is damaging to them. That modeling responsible behavior, things that you can do for kid, just build on their strengths. Recognize young people in general as resources, not problems. Mentor kids, listen to your kids, share decision-making with them. In AC3, that the Communities That Care model, we talk about, giving kids opportunities, providing them opportunities to grow and to learn and develop leadership. We talk about teaching them skills, things that, that will help them develop as adults and then rewarding positive behavior, letting them know when you're proud of them and why you're proud of them and what they did that was right and good and outstanding.
Vicki: Help them through difficult times in a positive way.
Linda: Yes. Absolutely.
Van: Yeah, I'm I'm happy you said all that because you couldn't be more right with the whole thing with role-modeling. My mom, I don't think I've ever seen her drink. To be honest, I don't know if she does drink. I really don't know. But my mom always and especially when I was younger, made sure that I knew that she basically wasn't happy with my dad drinking. She was never making any light of it, I think was in her eyes, always frowned upon. And my mother is the person I care about most in the world and I look up to most, why wouldn't I you know, she's my mother!
Linda: Awww, good job Vicki!
Van: I think it's the same with every other kid. Who else would you look up to other than your parents? You know, they're what created you, the only reason you're in this world and if they are making that example, oh ya I drink all the time, it doesn't matter, You're going to do the same thing.
Vicki: There was a point when you and Via were at a certain age and I noticed that at all of our Christmas parties and other holidays, my parents came over and other people came over and there was always alcoholic involved, and I went you know is this the message I want to send my kids that for holidays everybody drinks and I told my whole family no more drinking at holidays and they kind of pushed back for a little bit. But then after a while, they got used to it and it became the norm and then nobody did.
Van: And for my whole life, I thought that was the norm. Holiday gatherings and family gathering shouldn't be revolved around alcohol that's sad to me.
Vicki: It's about family.
Linda: I agree.
Van: I always thought this was just the norm. So when I went over to a friend's house for, you know, they have their family over you're just hanging out with them, and they're all drinking, they're all getting just real drunk around the kids and everything. They're playing cards. It's not like they're just like having a drink, like they're obviously drunk
Vicki: when you talk about
Van: that's a huge difference right there.
Vicki: that you're uncomfortable being around that?
Van: Yeah. I absolutely did not feel comfortable around adults that were offering me alcohol, drinking in front of me, and obviously drunk. It's just an example of what's accepted.
Vicki: One of the other things that I did at both of my kid's graduation parties, there was no alcohol there at all. So do you have any tips or advice for our graduate seniors on how to not drink or use drugs or how to say, hey, no thanks to these adults that are pressuring you to drink at these parties? Can you still be cool and not participate in that when you're going to parties and gatherings?
Van: I think it's really important to just have a strong confidence within yourself. If you're not confident with your decisions or what you believe in, it's really easy to be affected from people outside of your life or whatever. I think the easiest way to not get involved in that, obviously that's just not try it that first time you have so much more to your life. High-school is a blink of the eye, and your never going to think about it once you're past it, pretty easy in my eyes to say no to that. It keeps you cooler I think (he laughs) Linda: I agree! Van: I'm a much not to sound arrogant, but I'm a much more interesting person than the people I know that binge drink. I know a couple of people from Northern (NMU) that I used to hang out with and I stopped hanging out with them because of their alcohol problems. And it started in high school and originated then when they started drinking heavily then and if drinking heavily then you're going to continue to drink heavily. And I just noticed how lame their life was in what they were doing. They would just drink. Every time I saw them. They are drinking and they were drunk and smashed.
Vicki: what would you do with your days instead?
Van: I would enjoy them. I spent a lot of time skiing, mountain biking, doing water sports. I think it's really important to find passion at a young age. It keeps you happy, it keeps you motivated, and it keeps you away from the things that are easy to do like alcohol.
Linda: I agree. This is my professional opinion as someone who has worked in the field of youth development for 20 plus years. And as a parent to that, one of the things that adults can do to make a difference with kids is to encourage just what you were talking about Van, those things that are passions within a kid. In youth development terms we call them sparks. Those things that kind of spark joy in people, their passion. So for some kids it is so love of the outdoors in sports and doing ya know, like you said, mountain biking and skiing and things like that. But it can also be more cerebral, sort of academic things or whatever. Help kids find their passions and then encourage them in it, Is one of the best things that adults can do for young people.
Linda: Grow up and not feel like they need to rely on substances for their, you know, their idea of fun.
Vicki: Make their life interesting.
Vicki: You're doing positive, enjoyable things. In my profession as being a Community Nutrition Instructor, all the studies support that eating healthy, being physically active and doing positive things that bring you joy is what brings success and happiness to your life. It helps decrease anxiety and depression and helps you to deal positively with stress. These are things that we should be as parents and a community supporting supporting our youth.
Vicki: Not having alcohol at parties, allowing under age drinking. Really something that I am hoping this podcast will really encouraged people, especially those people that think it's okay, really give it some thought.
Linda: It's a really good reminder to I think it's not that everybody has that same mindset that alcohol is cool and yeah, let's use, use, use and let's give it to our kids. I don't think that everyone is why know everyone's not like that. Vicki you're not, I'm not, and but sometimes they let their guard down. It's that idea of one drink isn't going to hurt them that sort of thing. You know, we do this responsibly in adulthood so it's not it's not a bad thing. They're in a safe place. Yeah. We need that reminder that we don't want kids to go down that road. There's so much more that they can get out of life and yeah, let's keep him healthy and active and so they can be productive and grow up happy!
Van: I really think that first drink is the most impacting drink that you'll ever have. Just taking that first step towards whatever is always going to be the biggest milestone in that timeline or whatever you want to call it. If you just wait to drink, it's going to be that much easier to not drink.
Linda: It is, because your brain will be better developed if we could just keep the kids from drinking and such until their brains have developed fully.
Vicki: On the AC3 Facebook page, we just posted the video, Wait 21, and it talks about how alcohol affects our brains before we're 21. So if you want to watch that video, it's only like three minutes long. It's on You Tube, you can just find if there, it's called Wait 21.
Linda: Yes, it is an excellent video. It just kinda lays it all out there in a way that's really impactful.
Vicki: Yeah, fact-based.
Van: I guess I'm hoping that this keeps kids from drinking alcohol. he laughs, Hahaha. That's what my intention is with it. I have this friend who is a pretty talented skier and I met him last year. He's a freshman in college, he could do a lot more things than I could on skis. He has quite an alcohol addiction and I often see him only drunk. I had honestly, I've only seen a handful of times where he's been sober and it just absolutely killed the potential that he had with skiing. He was passionate about it, he loves it. He spent a lot of time out there and I saw that when he started drinking more and his skiing just completely went in the gutter. I saw him little times at the ski hill and I saw how much it affected his life and so a beverage can affect your life pretty drastically?
Vicki: It's not just a beverage it's actually poison.
Van: Yeah, it's not just a beverage.
Linda: It's toxic.
Vicki: It's how we think of it as because it is legal, it's just a beverage. It's not, it's 100 percent poison. This is something that I really tout a lot to people to look at it for what it really is. And that's why, we get these effects off of it is because we're poisoning our body and that's the reaction our body has when it is poisoned. So I call it what it is.
Van: Yeah, I think a lot less people would drink if it was labeled as Poison.
Vicki: I think so too (laughing) And I want to thank you two for joining us for our podcast, talking about this issue, one that is very relevant in our community. And this podcast will be posted on the AC3 Facebook page. And I would love for our listeners to post comments and spark up a discussion about this. I think we could talk about this for a very long time. So thank you for coming and participating. Thank you for joining us for this episode of Alger County Communities That Care, promoting a safe, healthy, and prosperous environment for all youth and adults. We hope you tune into our next episode. For more information on the AC3, visit us online at algerctc.org Funding for this podcast comes from the US Department of Agriculture Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program or SNAP, MSU is an affirmative action equal opportunity employer committed to achieving excellence through a diverse workforce and inclusive culture that encourages all people to reach their full potential. Michigan State University Extension programs. And the materials are open to all without regard to race, color, national origin, gender, gender identity, religion, age, height, weight, disability, political beliefs, sexual orientation, marital status, family status, or veteran status issued in furtherance of MSU Extension work acts of May eighth and June 30th, 1914 in cooperation with the US Department of Agriculture. This information is for educational purposes only. Reference to commercial products or trade names does not imply endorsement by MSU Extension or biased against those not mentioned.