This week’s summit on underage drinking in Westbrook is a good first step towards dealing with the problem of kids of high school age and even younger drinking.

But it’s just a step. This is a problem that won’t be cured by one meeting. It’s going to take a concerted effort by the entire community to do anything about it.

And that includes listening to the ones who know the most about the problem, the kids. After all, they can lend the best perspective about what’s actually going on with their peers, and they can offer ideas on how to deal with the problem.

Drinking at parties has been a rite of passage for high school kids for generations. As Westbrook High School sophomore Ericka Leary said, kids now are doing what most of their parents did at the same age.

Leary was one of a group of high school students that discussed drinking among their peers with the American Journal this week. For the most part, the kids said a majority of kids in the school drink.

The good news, if you can call it that, is that kids seem more aware of the dangers of drinking and driving, and are choosing a designated driver, or just spending the night where they are. But, there are still kids who think they are invulnerable, and they will drink and drive, with the inevitable tragic results.

The fact that kids are drinking at parties is not all that surprising. What is surprising, and frankly discouraging, is that some parents, in a misguided effort at keeping their kids safe, are letting kids drink at home. This is not an answer. All this does is teach kids that it’s all right to drink.

The schools have taken steps to deal with the problem. Every high school student participating in extracurricular activities, sports or otherwise, must sign a code of conduct. This code of conduct, among other things, calls for their suspension from the activity if they are caught at a place where kids are drinking, even if they are not drinking themselves.

This was brought to light last year during the state basketball tournament when the School Committee voted to suspend several starters from the boys’ basketball team for violating the code, a decision that likely cost them the playoff game, the last game of their high school career for some players.

While this decision, which penalized the players for simply being at a party where other kids were drinking, was a difficult one, it hasn’t stopped kids from continuing to risk suspension from their teams or activities.

Sophomore Diana Quinlan said she felt it was members of the athletic teams who tended to be the ones organizing the parties.

“The kids who do every single sport, you’re like, ‘Oh, well, they can’t do that because they’re worried about getting thrown off the team,'” she said. “Well, they’re the ones who know how to do it without getting caught.”

What this says is that even the harshest punishments aren’t dissuading kids from drinking. What the schools and the community as a whole need to do is come up with different ways to curb underage drinking.

Perhaps in addition to suspending offenders from extracurricular activities, they should also be required to perform some sort of community service. This could range from cleaning up around school grounds to speaking to younger kids about the dangers of underage drinking and how it can lead to other problems like drug abuse and teen pregnancy.

Forums like the one in Westbrook are good ideas. It’s important to talk about problems like underage drinking and have communities work together to come up with solutions.

And that includes listening to everyone’s ideas, especially the kids.

Mike Higgins, assistant editor

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