Teen Court program focuses on alcohol prevention

By Liliana Castillo: Freedom New Mexico

Alcohol prevention is not a stranger in Roosevelt and Curry Counties.

Both areas have programs in place to help children stay away from alcohol so they don’t head down that path.

Teen Court programs in both cities focus on prevention.

Even though April is alcohol awareness month, experts say prevention is a constant practice.

Karen Garcia, director of underage prevention and Teen Court in Curry County, said her program begins with third graders.

“I used to talk to high schoolers and realized we were missing the boat. We went to middle school and realized the kids weren’t young enough. Sixth grade before they go into middle school is the age of onset,” Garcia said.

The program, called Too Good for Drugs, Too Good for Violence, visits third grade classrooms so that when they visit sixth grade classrooms, Garcia and her staff aren’t strangers to the students. Portales uses the same program.

“From teachers responses, we’re pretty sure it’s been effective,” she said.

In her 16th year of preventing children from drinking, Garcia said the best way is to be positive.

“We don’t tell them don’t do drugs because we say so,” she said. “We show them the choices they can make and how their life will be if you don’t choose that.”

Garcia said the program focuses on keeping children away from violence, tobacco, alcohol and drugs by using role playing, poster contests and videos.

Barbara George, Teen Court coordinator in Portales, said she began targeting parents this year.

“There are so many parents who say ‘at least they aren’t doing drugs’ or ‘boys will be boys’,” she said. “But that’s not true. Alcohol is a drug. We’re trying to get parents to realize how lethal alcohol is.”

George said that children say that parents are the biggest influence in their lives.

“The more they can be there for them, the less likely the student will make those decisions,” she said.

Terri Marney, a council coordinator with the Curry County Wellness Council, said prevention has been a project for her for four years. The council has a Stay Teen campaign that urges teenagers to remain teenagers without adult responsibilities as long as they can.

“We need to tell kids don’t be drinking, doing drugs, don’t have sex and have babies. Be teenagers,” she said.

Marney said the council focuses on summer time prevention.

“If kids are busy, they’re less likely to make high risk decisions,” she said.

Marney said the council is working to start a Girls and Boys Club of America in Clovis to keep children and youth occupied.

Marney said adult mentorship, positive family structure and positive peer pressure are three of the most important factors in prevention.

“Children have to have an environment at home that promotes healthy living,” she said. “There’s nothing wrong with having a beer in front of your child. But you can’t be an alcoholic and expect them not to follow suit.”

Marney said it’s better to be proactive rather than reactive when it comes to dealing with alcohol and minors.

“It’s important to make sure kids know the outcome of drinking. We want to tell them what can happen to them before they even get into that world,” she said.