Teen alcohol death a timely reminder

01:00, May 19 2010

Community heads are calling for parents to take greater responsibility over their children's drinking following the death of a student at King's College.

Waiheke High School principal Neil Watson, deputy principal and Waiheke Community Board chairman Tony Sears and Waiheke police youth aid officer Steve Clark say they don't want to see a repeat of what happened to 16-year-old James Webster occurring to any child on Waiheke.

They say there has been a dramatic increase in underage drinking on the island with younger and younger children involved.

Mr Watson says there is a misplaced feeling on this island that children are safe.

"We live in a defined space, we know our neighbours but the dangers are there.

"I am really concerned about our young people drinking alcohol. Although they are not our responsibility when they drink outside of school hours, it is affecting our kids when they are at school.

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"Parents need to remember their legal obligations and not give youngsters alcohol."

Waiheke High School recently dealt with two serious assaults at the school, both the result of tensions developed at parties held the previous weekend where alcohol had been provided.

And so far this year two youngsters have had to be airlifted to hospital to have their stomachs pumped due to the over consumption of alcohol.

Mr Sears says alcohol retailers, however, are being responsible about not selling to underage teens.

"The trouble is many are being given alcohol by their parents and older siblings."

Police youth aid officer Mr Clark agrees, saying the police regularly take home "intoxicated young people" who have been given alcohol by their parents.

"I'm not talking about a couple of beers. They are given boxes of beers, spirits and RTDs (ready to drink)."

Mr Clark says the police and volunteer group Friends of the Street regularly take home children as young as 12 and 13 years of age who are "very intoxicated" and that for many, drinking is a regular occurrence, with alcohol dependency already a problem.

Alcohol rehabilitation, something more usually associated with older drinkers, is already a reality for two Waiheke youths under the age of 17, who have been placed in residential alcohol dependency units.

And while many make use of the safe service of being driven home, offered by Friends of the Street, there are still those who drive drunk, says Mr Clark.

"In the last 12 months 37 people under the age of 20 have been done for drink driving - 15 were under the legal age for drinking of 18."

Mr Sears says there are plenty of examples across New Zealand of young people killing themselves and others through drink driving.

"Will it take a death on our island before parents realise giving alcohol to children is not a good thing?"

To reinforce the school's concerns over the many problems associated with alcohol Mr Watson has sent a letter to all parents with children at the school reminding them of the dangers and consequences of underage drinking.

"The last thing I want to do is attend a funeral of one of our students who died an unnecessary death," he says.

Parents and youngsters looking for more information on teenage drinking can check out www.alcohol.org.nz/InfoForYouth.

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