Message from town hall on underage drinking: Keep kids, parents safe

Krista Brenno, Senior Assistance Counselor at Osseo Senior High School, speaks at a Town Hall addressing underage drinking. Also present were Rose McKinney of Our Young Addicts and Attorney Steve Tallen.

"If I teach my children how to drink at home, they will be safe." At least, that’s the mistaken thoughts of some parents who allow their children to host drinking parties, according to Krista Brenno. She is the Senior Assistance Counselor at Osseo Senior High School, and she took part in a town hall Thursday to educate parents about keeping their children safe and social.

Underage drinking has enormous social and individual consequences, Brenno said. "Using substances puts kids in high-risk situations," she said. "It can bring about depression, anxiety, mood issues, and emotional issues. Young people can get in the habit of thinking these substances are helping, and they are actually hindering their development. They are not standing around and having a drink, they are binge drinking to excess."

Local chemical, education and law enforcement professionals discussed emotional, physical and legal consequences to both parents and youth for allowing underage drinking on their property. Most cities in northwest Hennepin County have a Social Host Ordinance, which makes it illegal to host a party where there is underage alcohol consumption. Osseo’s ordinance has even more teeth than any other city in the state by including underage use of illegal drugs.

Panelists also gave tips for parents communicating with their children and other parents. "Ditch the mentality of ‘not my kid,’ because, you know what? It really can be any kid," said Rose McKinney, a local writer, mother and creator of Our Young Addicts. She knows firsthand, as her son is in recovery from substance abuse. She advises parents to make their home the gathering spot.

She added, "Pay attention to back packs, provide beverages, provide food and check in on the kids. Make sure kids have a ride home. When your kid goes to someone else’s house, you need to see the other adult. Give them your name and number."

And if parents find out their child was allowed to drink in another home? Call the police, panelists advised. While that may feel extreme to some, it will have a chilling effect in the community, according to attorney Steve Tallen, a former police officer, who prosecutes for several Hennepin County cities. "When the parents can tell the parents of the other children all the grief they went through because they let the kids have the graduation party in the back yard, it spreads around, because frankly, many of these folks don’t have a clue that there is anything wrong in what they are doing," Tallen said.

For parents concerned about calling the police, Maple Grove Detective Angela Tschida stressed callers can remain anonymous. "A lot of the tips we get come from neighbors, they come from people who left the party and felt uncomfortable with what was going on, they come from concerned parents in advance because they have heard amongst the kids that this party will be happening," she said.

When callers wish to remain anonymous, Tschida said, "We will develop our own reasons for making contact with the house, whether its things we can see from plain view from the outside, whether its from people leaving the party intoxicated, anything like that."

She said the ordinance acts as a deterrent. "It’s about the community and keeping the community safe," Tschida added.

Brenno, the educator, talked about parents’ misguided impression that drinking at home is safe. She said parents don’t know if their children’s friends "have existing mental health issues, we don’t know if they are on medications, we don’t know if they have a potential history of addiction in their family and so it’s not only unsafe but unfair to put those kids in that situation; to say, ‘hey we are going to offer you a safe place to drink,’ because that is not what happens when a lot of these kids get into a high risk situation, and that’s harmful."

The panelists agreed the Social Host Ordinance is an important tool in preventing youth from using alcohol. In the northwest suburbs of Hennepin County, Brooklyn Park, Crystal, Golden Valley, Maple Grove, New Hope, Osseo and Plymouth have Social Host Ordinances. Robbinsdale and Brooklyn Center do not.

Parents in Robbinsdale and Brooklyn Center who would like to see an ordinance in their communities need to let their city councils know, Mikkelson said. He said the chances of enacting an ordinance increase with the backing of community groups, schools, and groups like Partnership for Change. "Social change starts with people becoming social with each other, coming behind a common goal," Mikkelson said. "That public outcry can cause chiefs of police and elected officials to start to listen. If your community doesn’t have a Social Host Ordinance and you feel that it’s something that should be in your community, then you need to speak up."

Replays of the town hall will be available at Town Hall presenters included Maple Grove Police Chief Eric Werner, Lindsey Smith, Regional Prevention Coordinator, Detective Angela Tschida of Maple Grove Police Department, Osseo Police Chief Shane Mikkelson, Rose McKinney, of Our Young Addicts, Krista Brenno, from Osseo Area Schools, Steve Tallen, an attorney who prosecutes cases for Maple Grove and Teresa Lunt, Community Chair of Partnership for Change.

The Town Hall was sponsored by North Memorial Health Care and Partnership for Change, a local coalition working to reduce drug use among youth and young adults in northwest Hennepin County.


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