Is underage drinking a problem among South Dakota teenagers?

Is underage drinking a problem among South Dakota teenagers?
Does South Dakota have a teenage drinking problem? If so, what is being done about it?

On March 18, the Yankton Press and Dakotan ran an article titled, "Meeting on underage drinking set for Vermillion." The article contained many disturbing statistics about South Dakota youth and their drinking habits.

The 2003 Youth Risk Survey, featured in this article, showed that more than half of all junior high and high school students in South Dakota drink alcohol at least once a month. Among those within the 50.2 percent, 38 percent binge drink. This shows that South Dakota youth are above the national average. The national survey indicated 41.7 percent of junior high and high school students reported drinking once a month, of those, 29.9 percent confess to binge drinking.

The percentage of young adults drinking is increasing. This has become a concern to a variety of people including parents, teachers, peers and the community. Although most teens know not to drink, many influences and experiences tell them otherwise.

Such concern has come up right here in Wakonda. Many private dances occur throughout the year at the American Legion. Private wedding parties, firemen's dances, the annual hunter's feed, and benefits rent out the hall and usually serve a meal and then host a dance where alcohol is served. Guests of all ages come to these dances. Adults are drinking, but how about those under aged?

Wakonda School Resource Officer Dallas Schnack was asked a few questions regarding this problem:

At Wakonda Legion dances, there is always a mix of adults and teenagers. The workers serving alcohol may card to make sure no one underage is buying alcohol, but who is in charge of making sure no one underage is drinking or bringing in their own alcohol?

It is the responsibility of the staff or whoever is in charge of the dance to ensure that no one under the age of 21 drinks alcohol. The Sheriff's Department patrols the area outside, but the liquor license of the establishment holds the holder of the liquor license responsible.

Are there any laws that could keep those under the age of 21 from attending these functions (firemen's dance, hunters' feed, benefits) at the Legion where alcohol is being served? Or is it up to the private party?

SDCL 35-74-9 prohibits those under 21 to be on the premises of an establishment that has a liquor license. However, there are certain exceptions, such as that license being a malt beverage (beer only) license. The license is given out by the city, and it is the responsibility of the holder of the license to ensure the law is followed.

Who is liable if someone underage leaves the Legion under the influence and gets into an accident?

The holder of the liquor license, anyone selling alcohol, and anyone that contributed the alcohol to the minor.

What are the rules about being in a bar with your own parents?

If the establishment makes more that 50 percent of its profit from the sale of food, then a minor can be in a bar. If not, then no minors allowed.

We have heard if you are with your parents you can drink. Is this true?

No law allows you to drink alcohol at the bar, dance, or any place that sells alcohol.

SDCL 35-9-1 says that any private citizen that provides alcohol to a minor while that minor is in the presence of a parent is not furnishing alcohol illegally. Now, this is confusing and may appear that it is OK for the minor to drink that alcohol. That's not the case. No where in this statute does it say it's OK for the minor to possess the alcohol, or drink it. This law basically says that if a parent is present, then the responsibility falls back on them. So "no," you cannot drink with your parents.

Any suggestions to change this culture?

I started doing this job in 1992. Alcohol plays a huge role in a lot of people's social lives. Parents are the single most important factor in deterring their children from consuming alcohol illegally. If the parents condone underage drinking, a $100 ticket from me is not going to stop someone from drinking. A $120 traffic ticket does not stop a driver from speeding the rest of his/her life. It's about personal choice.

Benefit dances, street dances, fairs, and rodeos, all these are places where adults tend to look the other way when kids start to drink. Why? There are a lot of reasons:

1) The adults think they are hypocrites to say anything because they drank when they were under 21.

2) The adults may think that all kids have to go through this "right of passage."

3) Drinking alcohol is an adult activity, and we tell our kids to act like adults.

4) Don't want to get someone in trouble.

5) Don't know what to do.

To change the culture, the community would have to reconsider how it uses alcohol during its social events. Cops are seen as "the bad guys" who are trying to "catch people," not seen as community members helping to reduce accidents, violent acts, and other things that go along with drinking alcohol.

Look at it this way � since March 2003, there have been about 2,274 U.S. fatalities in the Iraq War. How many people do you know that have spoken out about the U.S. in Iraq? People march on Washington, riot at colleges, picket funerals. Politicians use it as a platform.

OK, every year, 17,500 people die from drunk driving accidents. How many people do you know that have spoken out against drunk driving? When was the last time you saw someone running for president with the platform for stopping drunk driving?

The change is culture starts with one; one person, one example, one voice.

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