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Program asks parents to take bigger role in preventing underage drinking

SALT LAKE CITY — State health officials are asking parents to do the heavy lifting in a new campaign to prevent underage drinking.

Utah first lady Jeanette Herbert helped launch a new campaign Tuesday sponsored by the Utah Division of Substance Abuse and Mental Health, and the state departments of environmental quality, alcoholic beverage control and human services.

It's part of the Parents Empowered program, with its main focus on helping parents take a more engaged role in preventing underage drinking. The campaign features several large-scale displays citing important figures and recommendations for preventing alcohol abuse.

"We know that these messages educate and encourage parents in our communities to set their rules about no underage drinking," Herbert said.

Exposure to alcohol at a young age can lead to developmental problems, she warned, impairing memory, learning and impulse control.

"Have those discussions. You have got to talk with them. You have got to engage with them and let them know you disapprove," Herbert said.

The governor's wife was flanked at a media event launching the campaign by students from Washington Terrace Elementary School and Murray High School's Peer Leadership Team.

"Parents, please make your disapproval of underage drinking absolutely clear," said Washington Terrace Elementary student Peighton Summers, 12. "Talk to your kids. Set firm rules against underage drinking."

The campaign notes that teens are most vulnerable to alcohol exposure between the hours of 3 p.m. and 6 p.m. when they're home from school but parents may still be at work.

"Send your kids a text during those hours," said Doug Thomas, director of the Division of Substance Abuse and Mental Health. "Remind them about your rules, tell them you love them, tell them you look forward to doing something with them that evening. Those are all important things for your kids to hear."

Thomas touted as a resource for parents looking for advice on how to talk to their children about underage drinking.

"We know parents are the key to preventing underage drinking," said Susannah Burt, a program manager with the Division of Substance Abuse and Mental Health. "Numerous studies have proven that parental disapproval is the No. 1 reason that kids choose not to drink."