Teenage drinking topic of town hall meeting

Sharelle Claiborne started to drink alcohol at age 11 when she had a beer at a friend’s house.

Tips offered to parents, teens

Sharelle Claiborne started to drink alcohol at age 11 when she had a beer at a friend’s house.

“I hung around people who used alcohol and smoked and I got fed up being the only one sober,” Claiborne, 18, of Kent, told the audience at a Town Hall meeting April 2 at Kent City Hall. “Once I drank, from then on, it was all downhill.”

It took several arrests, auto crashes, rehab clinics, group and individual counseling before Claiborne gave up alcohol. She shared her story as part of a panel of experts who gave advice to parents at the meeting about how to prevent children from drinking alcohol as well as tips on where to turn if a child already has a drinking problem.

“We hear bad stories about teens and alcohol and act like that’s the way it is,” said Kent Police Chief Steve Strachan, who moderated the town hall meeting sponsored by the police department, the Kent Drinking Driver Task Force and the Kent Police Youth Board. “It’s not the way it is. We can make a decision as a community and individuals to change.”

Strachan told of studies that show children who drink alcohol before age 15 are five times more likely to have alcohol problems as adults than those who

start drinking at the legal age of 21.

Parents were advised to stay involved in the details of their children’s lives.

“Have the courage to ask questions,” said Deborah Solatka, coordinator of special service for the Kent School District. “You need to be involved even if doors are slammed on you. If communication is not working, go to your faith group, a neighbor or resources in the community to help you child with their choices in life.”

Claiborne had good grades in elementary school until her family moved and her parents split up. Claiborne lived with her single mother, and started to host drinking parties after school when her mother was at work.

“I liked the feeling,” Claiborne said of her drinking. “I was always polite. But when I would drink, I’d become loud and talk to everybody. I was 10 times funnier.”

That fun led to stealing cars and other problems before Claiborne finally kicked the habit of drinking.

“I was having fun and didn’t want to stop,’ Claiborne said. “You have to want to change.”

The experience of counselors at Kent Youth and Family Services helped Claiborne give up drinking, she said. She still goes to group sessions.

“The counselors there help because they’ve been through it,” Claiborne said.

During a question-and-answer session at the meeting, a teenage girl asked the panel about the struggle she’s going through to stay away from best friends who now like to spend a lot of time drinking alcohol. She wants to avoid the drinking, she said, but has a tough time letting go of friends.

“Hang out less and less with them and try not to be in a big group,” Claiborne told the girl. “If you’re with one friend, tell them ‘I’m sober, be sober around me.’ If they’re not sober, stay away.”

The panel also told parents to make sure their children know they can count on them if they end up in a spot where they do not want to be.

“Especially with prom season coming up, it’s important to let them know, no questions asked, just call and we’ll come get you,” Solatka said.

Contact Steve Hunter at 253-872-6600, ext. 5052 or shunter@reporternewspapers.com.

Underage drinking resources

• www.StartTalkingNow.org

• wwww.drugfree.org

• Kent Youth and Family Services, 253-859-0300

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