"If you sit around with your buddies every weekend with a beer in your hand what do you expect your children to do?" Salem Chief of Police Albert Roork asked.
Underage drinking is a problem regardless of where a person lives. How big a problem? The answer could surprise parents, especially the age when a child begins drinking alcohol.
In a poll taken on the Villager Journal Web site the people who responded thought the average age adolescents begin drinking is 14.
One person who responded, said they worked at an adolescent chemical dependency unit where they kept records and almost all of the teens started drinking at age 10 and most of them got the alcohol from a parent.
Arkansas Department of Health and Human Services (DHS) recently conducted a survey in schools across the state. The survey is broken up by county results and revealed that the average age kids in this area take their first drink of alcohol is 12 years old. The average age adolescents begin regular use of alcohol is 14.
The results for Fulton, Izard and Sharp counties are in the report. The full report can be found at http://arkansas.pridesurveys.com/.
"The statistics haven't changed a whole lot in the several years I have been police chief," Roork said. "The difference is you used to pull up and the kids would be on the side of the road with their coolers and you could write a bunch of alcohol tickets but now the kids are a lot more discreate about where they party."
Roork said it is 100 percent the parents fault that their kids are drinking.
"If they (the parents) don't know where their kids are and who they are with all of the time, it is their fault," Roork said.
Roork also said it comes back to the parents when it comes to their habits. "If your child sees you with a beer in your hand all of the time, that child is going to mimic you," Roork said.
Arkansas has started their fight against teen alcohol use in several ways.
If a teen is caught in possession of alcohol, no matter where it is, the law states their drivers license will be suspended for a minimum of two years.
Another problem is teens purchasing alcohol and tobacco products from stores. Often times it is not intentional on the clerks part when calculating their age, but a simple math error. The state started a new program last year, where anyone under 21 years of age receives a vertical drivers license. This makes it fool proof for store clerks.
The problem with adolescent alcohol use lies not only in the alcohol but what the kids are taking with their drinks. Roork said you never know what kind of pill cocktail the kids are taking with their beer which makes it that much more dangerous.
There have been several teens die in the last couple of years due to drug and alcohol use.
Roork said although drug use among the young has become a rising issue, alcohol is still the number one killer.
A representative from Focus Adolescent Services said annually, more than 5,000 deaths of people under age 21 are linked to underage drinking.
The three leading causes of death for 15 to 24 year-olds are automobile crashes, homicides and suicides -- alcohol is a leading factor in all three.
The statistics posted on the Focus Web site say that the average age which Americans begin drinking regularly is 15.9. Teens who begin drinking before age 15 are five times more likely to develop alcohol dependence than those who begin drinking at age 21.
According to Anita Gottsponer, manager of Driver Control and Traffic Violation Records for the state of Arkansas, between January and October there were 508 driving under the influence tickets given to people under the age of 21. In the same time span there were 1,017 arrests made for minor in possession of alcohol.
Teresa Belew, executive director of Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MAAD) said that while that number is alarming, it is even more alarming that in 2006, 60 teens were killed in alcohol related accidents. "That's too many, we need to listen to what our teens are telling us," Belew said.
Roork said that while the programs at the schools are great, teens know when they're being fed a "line" and need someone to grab there attention.
Roork said he once had a man who was serving a life sentence for drug related charges come talk to the kids. "You could have heard a pin drop, they listened to every word," Roork said.
At MAAD they have a saying, "Blaming young people for underage drinking is like blaming fish for swimming in a polluted stream," Belew said. She said we (parents and adults) have to clean it up.