COSTA MESA — Parents with kids in tow packed Rea Elementary School's multipurpose room for a two-hour bilingual town hall meeting Thursday night on the dangers of underage drinking.
"Minor Drinking — Major Problems" gave residents facts about the prevalence of teen drinking, its dangers to developing youths, the legal liabilities of supplying minors with alcohol, and products parents might not realize that contain alcohol.
"This is a big concern for all of us because, as you know, in their young age, alcohol and teenagers is not a good mix," said moderator and TeWinkle Intermediate School Principal Rich Rodriguez.
The meeting, which was sponsored by TeWinkle's English Learners Advisory Committee and the Orange County chapter of the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, came together after a survey showed higher rates of teen drinking in Newport Beach than in other parts of the county.
In the Newport-Mesa Unified School District, 23% of freshmen reported having had at least one drink in the past 30 days in the state Department of Education's California Healthy Kids Survey for 2010, according to the meeting.
That number shoots up to 50% by the time students are juniors.
The majority of teens are consuming five or more drinks in two hours, said Dr. Gary Goodman, who works in Children's Hospital of Orange County's Pediatric Critical Care.
That much alcohol can cause comas, lung failure, choking, seizures, lower body temperature and even death, he said.
"Alcohol is a drug just like heroin or marijuana or cocaine," Goodman said. "It's a drug and it can hurt your body."
It can also cause short- and long-term brain damage, he said.
The frontal lobe, which is responsible for critical thinking, develops until the ages of 21 to 24, said Michaell Rose, Hoag Hospital's mental health program manager.
It's up to parents to do the critical thinking for their kids and most of all be parents, not friends, she said.
"I don't need the parents to be the buddy and the cool person," she said. "That is not helpful. You are not equal."
Shelly Bishop, with the state Alcoholic Beverage Control, also warned parents about providing minors with alcohol or letting them drink in their homes.
If something happens, the children will be in big trouble and the adult will be facing criminal action, she said.
"It doesn't matter if it's at your house, an adult is supervising or not; it's illegal," she said.
Dr. Didra Brown Taylor, a researcher from Charles Drew University of Medicine and Science, asked parents to guess which products had alcohol and which didn't.
She brought out whipped cream called Whipahol that contains 18.2% alcohol, flip-flops with a bottle opener, and a secret compartment that holds a shot of alcohol, a powder mix like Crystal Light that turns juice into alcohol in 72 hours called Spike Your Juice.
"This could be in your refrigerator and you not even know," Taylor said.
Learning about all the camouflaged ways teens can get alcohol wasn't reassuring for Costa Mesa parent Maritza Garcia.
"It was really scary," she said. "It was just like how exactly they can keep the alcohol; I didn't know that."
With a 3-year-old and a 12-year-old, Garcia said "thank God" she doesn't have problems with her children drinking, but she knows what it is like to be a teenager and wanted to get all the information she can.
Garcia said she found the meeting helpful but would have liked to hear information about drugs, which are easier for kids to get at school.
Costa Mesa parent Magali Pineda also doesn't have problems with teen drinking with a 6-year-old and a 10-year-old, who attended the meeting, but she doesn't want to wait for it to become a problem to address the issue.
"I don't want them to get on drugs, so I'm trying to prepare them," she said.
The kids in the audience were asked to leave before Bishop and Taylor spoke to go to their own meeting with members of the California National Guard's drug demand reduction program.
The students tried fatal vision goggles that simulated the impaired vision of having a blood alcohol level of .17% to .2% and then underwent a sobriety test, which none of them passed, said Capt. Ruel Fuentecilla.
The students also did two team-building activities to reinforce the lessons to make good life decisions and live a healthy lifestyle, Fuentecilla said.
What Can Parents Do?
Dr. Gary Goodman and Michaell Rose share what parents can do to stop their kids from drinking:
•Lock up any alcohol at home.
•Keep kids busy.
•Know where kids are and who they are with.
•Have rules, consequences and discipline.
•Spend time with children in a positive way.