Health experts say risky teen behavior is up

By William P. Thompson

Roosevelt County health officials gave out some bad news last night at a town hall meeting on underage drinking — in recent years, more than half of Roosevelt County high school students have reported having an alcoholic drink.

Terry Teti of Community Resources, Inc. in Portales said a 2003-2004 self-reported survey of Roosevelt County high school students showed that 69 percent of 294 students reported having a drink, and 42 percent of those students reported having a drink in the past 30 days.

Roosevelt County Public Health Nurse Carol Morgan said she can’t say for sure how many teens are drinking in Portales these days but she knows more teens are engaging in risky behaviors like sex.

Morgan said the link between underage drinking and sex is strong. She said she has horror stories from Roosevelt County.

“One time I did pregnancy tests for three 13-year-old girls in one day,” Morgan said. One of the girls claimed three sexual partners. One out of four girls that come to me have a sexually transmitted disease.”

Morgan said a heroin dealer came to see her once and admitted to spiking teen girls’ drinks with heroin to get them hooked on heroin. Morgan said it’s just one more reason for parents to talk to their children about alcohol.

“A drug dealer is going to see their kid drinking and the drug dealer is going to target that kid,” she said.

Teti and Morgan say parents are the first avenue of influence on a child. Teti showed a brief film in which teens admitted to listening to their parents even when the parents thought they weren’t being listened too.

Portales resident Vicki Aguilar said she came to the meeting just to be better informed about the issue.
“I didn’t realize that kids are more likely to listen to their parents, that parents are more of an influence on them than I thought,” she said.

Teti offered the 20 or so audience members a way for parents to confront their teens when drinking is suspected. She said the parents need to arm themselves with information on how alcohol affects the growing teen brain and then sit down with the teen and speak calmly.

“Just sit down and say, ‘This is what you’re doing to your body. We’d like you to think it over for a few days and we’ll talk about it,’” she said.

Morgan said that teens should not be left home alone and group activities after school, supervised by adults, are a must in order to prevent risky behavior on the part of teens. Leslie Peterson, chairperson of the Roosevelt County health council, said unsupervised teens in Portales have been known to throw “hook-up” parties while their parents are away.

“They are having parties after school,” Peterson said. They are having oral sex thinking that it is not real sex. These are 13, 14 and 15-year-olds.”

Teti asked members of the audience to participate in forming a ‘subcommittee” of the Roosevelt County Health Council that would concentrate on reducing underage drinking. She said a major thrust of a subcommittee should be urging magazine publishers to stop printing alcohol ads that target young people.

Morgan said by the time a child reaches 18, he or she will have been exposed to more than 100,000 alcohol advertisements.

The first meeting of the subcommittee is scheduled for the next meeting of the Roosevelt County Health council April 17 at noon inside the Memorial Building meeting room. Call 226-6456 for details.