SLAYTON -- Former Murray County Central student Anthony Kruger stood in the MCC Auditorium Monday night and brought parents and teachers face to face with a problem that is a growing concern across the nation -- teenage drinking.
A 2004 MCC graduate, Kruger spoke candidly about the effects of alcohol on his two alcoholic brothers and his alcoholic mother, and warned parents that teens are out there drinking.
"Teens are using alcohol," he said frankly. "And one of these teens may be yours."
Several weeks ago, MCC Superintendent/High School Principal Steve Jones decided he couldn't keep silent about what he was hearing from students about teen drinking any longer. He decided to conduct an open forum about the problem, and organization of the meeting began.
In late March, letters were sent out to parents, inviting them to an open and forthright conversation about teenage drinking. In the week before the meeting, student volunteers called homes and spoke with parents or answering machines, asking them to attend.
By Monday night, more than one conversation had taken place between the scheduled speakers, wondering how many people would show up in the auditorium. Each speaker was impressed at seeing more than 250 people in attendance.
Jones opened the meeting, telling the crowd the information he hears at the school about students drinking "quite frankly, scares me to death."
He introduced Slayton Police Chief Brian Christensen, who said the problem with teenage drinking is not only local, but also nationwide. Christensen then presented Slayton Sgt. Tom Whitehead, who has been the DARE officer at MCC long enough to see his first DARE class prepare to graduate. Christensen called Whitehead "the most effective law enforcement officer I have ever had the privilege to work with."
Whitehead listed a few local statistics that included only Slayton Police Department numbers -- not Murray County or Minnesota State Patrol. In 2006, the SPD had two alcohol-related crashes, four minor consumption citations given, five minor in possession citations, four under 21 consumption citations and 13 driving while impaired arrests.
"And those are just the ones we caught," he added. "We hear every weekend about drinking parties, we just don't hear about them until it is too late for us do anything but watch that place in the future."
He said a big problem police face with teens is binge drinking. He hopes to let people know the police department cares enough to not condone the problem -- and hopefully to curb it.
"Something I have heard is that parents are hosting the drinking parties," he said, but clarified that perhaps "host" was not the right word. "They have them or know they are going on."
MCC School Psychologist Amy Engesser explained that parents tend to believe they can let teenagers go a little bit, but research shows teen brains are undergoing changes.
"What is in charge of their brain is the emotional part," she said. "I beg you as parents to stay involved. They need you to do the thinking part for them, because they aren't able to do it themselves."
She spoke of the physical impact on parts of the brain that is caused by drinking, adding that their ability to learn and memorize is affected for weeks and months.
When it was MCC Counselor Mary Beech's turn to speak, she declared the students at MCC to be great kids.
"But even great kids make bad choices," she added.
Talking about the risky behaviors associated with teen drinking, she explained that drinking and driving isn't the only risk -- sexually transmitted diseases in teens is on the rise.
"Drinking can inhibit choices," she said. "We need to be concerned about the sexual activities involved with drinking."
She added that drinking is not all that happens at parties -- pot smoking is also prevalent.
"If there is pot now, there will be other drugs down the road," she said.
Other risks associated with teen drinking involve children on medication -- most of which do not mix well with alcohol -- and the high number of suicide attempts associated with drinking.
Jones then introduced Kruger, explaining that when he spoke to Christensen about having a meeting, Christensen said a young man had recently approached him, wanting the opportunity to speak to people about teenage drinking.
As someone who had watched alcoholism ravage his family for more than 20 years, Kruger said he was eager to talk to the audience about the dangers teens face every time they go out. He called watching the lives of his 20- and 24-year-old brothers go down the drain "one of the most painful things in the world."
Kruger admitted he had used alcohol, but not while in high school.
"After high school is when I began to drink," he explained. "When I did drink, I thought I was doing it responsibly, but looking back now, I realize there is no such thing as responsible drinking for minors."
Kruger was disgusted at himself for giving in to peer pressure, something he said is a hard thing to overcome. He asked parents to explain to their teens the dangers of giving in to peer pressure.
"Explain to them it is OK to talk to their friends and tell them they don't want to drink," he encouraged.
He also encouraged them to get involved in their children's lives, admitting that his own parents' involvement in the lives of his brothers might have made a difference.
MCC teacher Tarry Boelter said he learned over the years that one thing he cannot impact his students on is whether they drink. He also said MCC has great kids, but expressed some disappointment.
"Some of the leaders are leading the wrong way," he said. "I challenge the kids that don't drink to step up and change that."
Several others spoke, and Jones then wrapped up the program with some straight-forward words the others had inferred.
"I know we have parents that know this is going on," he said. "And, as always, my door is always open."