Pictured: NSW Police Commissioner Andrew Scipione, Australian swimmer David McKeon, UOW Professor Sandra Jones and Kiama MP Gareth Ward at the project launch. Credit: DYLAN ROBINSON
The Kiama Under-age Drinking Project has received some high-profile support with NSW Police Commissioner Andrew Scipione and Olympians David McKeon and Casey Eastham on hand to officially launch the initiative.
Led by the University of Wollongong’s Centre of Health Initiatives, project manager Kelly Andrews said the aim of the project was “to start conversations, working as a community, to ensure that young people in the region know it is OK not to drink’’.
‘‘We want them to feel supported in making that choice,’’ Ms Andrews said.
Mr Scipione said with the majority of incidents police deal with on a daily basis alcohol related, this was a project that was needed in all communities across NSW.
He said Kiama was an ideal place for the initiative, as it was an area where parents took a great interest in the welfare of their children.
Director of UOW’s Centre for Health Initiatives, Professor Sandra Jones, said figures showed that across Australia, 29per cent of 16-year-olds were regular drinkers.
Prof Jones said the Illawarra and South Coast were in line with the national average, while rates of under-age drinking in the ‘‘inner rural’’ areas such as Dubbo and Orange were higher.
Considering the legal age is 18, that 29percent figure might seem high to some adults, but the perception among teenagers is that the percentage who regularly drink is much higher.
“Our children are growing up in a society that portrays teenage drinking as normal behaviour... [society] doesn’t provide them with the support they need to resist pressure to start drinking,’’ Prof Jones said.
Prof Jones said despite this lack of support, statistics showed alcohol consumption rates among teenagers was actually falling, despite the variety of alcohol products on the market and alcohol being more readily available.
Teenagers were aware of the dangers posed by under-age drinking and excessive consumption, she said.
Olympians Casey Eastham and David McKeon grew up in the Illawarra and both spoke of how they often felt under pressure to drink alcohol at parties.
But they were also under pressure to resist as they knew the impact it would have on their sporting pursuits.
Eastham said in the end, she gained respect from her peers for her stance.
The Kiama Under-age Drinking Project team first began working with teens, parents, schools and community members in the Kiama area in January this year to develop community resources that are now available.
The project involves an information campaign, parent forums and workshops, Kiama High School curriculum and activities, community forums and events, fact sheets and websites.
Next week the project will hold two free parent information sessions at The Pavilion, Kiama, featuring clinical psychologist Gerard Stoyles, who will offer advice about parenting teenagers. Monday’s forum will be held at 10.30am, with Wednesday’s forum at 7pm. For more information, call Kelly Andrews on 42215810.