Panelists from the community and Cal Poly discussed underage drinking at a May 14 forum hosted by Friday Night Live. | Tram Nguyen/Mustang News

Tram Nguyen

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San Luis Obispo Sheriff Ian Parkinson got to know a friendly, respectful three-year-old boy, a friend of the sheriff’s two sons.

Parkinson saw this little boy grow up and, eight years ago, saw that very boy go to jail for killing a woman.

It all started with one bad decision: The boy thought it was OK to drink and drive. Now, his life has been changed forever.

Parkinson told this story as a guest on a five-person panel at a forum on May 14. The other four guests on the panel included Frank Warren from the Behavioral Health Department, Dr. Hannah Roberts from Cal Poly Health and Counseling Services, Cheryll Manley from the Office of the District Attorney and Mona Panchal from San Luis Obispo County Youth Council.

Attendees varied in age, from high school students to seniors.

Frank Warren said Americans have made alcohol part of their lifestyle, and San Luis Obispo is an “alcohol-producing community,” so “sometimes, we forget (alcohol) is a drug.” This makes it accessible and accepted.

Most parents even believe alcohol is the least destructive drug, he added.

From what Dr. Hannah Roberts has seen at Cal Poly, she said some students leave home for the first time, have misperceptions about alcohol and have it for the first time in college or at a much heavier rate than they previously did at home. She called this situation a “recipe for disaster.”

Panchal said “peer pressure” is often the reason behind the intoxication of youths.

“The majority of teenagers feel the need to be accepted and included by people of their own age,” she said. “And a lot of kids are starting to drink and use other substances at a really young age now.”

Data from a handout at the meeting shows that 38 percent of high school juniors have used alcohol in the past 30 days, and 75 percent of them think it is fairly or very easy to get alcohol.

Manley said she has seen many cases where youths pass out or choke on their own vomit at parties while other youths laugh. Sometimes, intoxicated youths kill people without knowing it, she said.

“Kids who are young, not even adults yet, can be prosecuted for murder in our court,” Manley said.

Damages caused by a youth younger than 18 years old are paid for by their parents, she added.

Social media also has an impact on youths’ behavior.

Manley said some youths take “selfies” at parties while drunk, post photos of others passing out on Facebook and upload a YouTube video of someone choking on their own vomit.

After a Q-and-A session with the panel, the meeting participants were divided into small groups to discuss solutions to drinking problems.

The groups came up with solutions such as having an ordinance that controls alcohol consumption at the county level, holding dry events for youths to take part in, giving more publicity to negative effects of alcohol, using peer mentoring and countering the marketed connection between sports and alcohol.

The meeting was sponsored by the San Luis Obispo County Friday Night Live Partnership and the San Luis Obispo County Youth Council.

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