Student of the Month Winner: Patrick Mulligan

The Safe Communities Coalition partners with Hunterdon Central Regional High School in recognizing positive choices and behaviors in our community. The vision of the Coalition is to live in a safe and healthy community by eliminating drug use, underage drinking and prescription drug abuse. This month's winners were awarded to Patrick Mulligan and Isabella Almeida for their vision on how to make the community a safer place to live.

Patrick Mulligan wrote an essay addressing a problem in Hunterdon County, why it's a problem, and provides a solution to try and fix it. His essay addresses parents involvement in underage drinking parties, why its not acceptable to condone these kinds of parties at their house, and explains how we need to educate parents to make them more aware of this issue. Take a look at his essay below:


Hunterdon County is often regarded as a very safe place to grow up. Good school systems, a great variety of activities to join, and programs such as the Safe Coalition exemplify that every day. But just as everything in life, Hunterdon County isn't perfect.

When it comes to growing up in Hunterdon County, just as in many other places, the teenage years presents "opportunities" in regards to drugs and alcohol, and I believe in order to prevent drug and alcohol use and abuse in Hunterdon County, we should target those situations.

In Hunterdon Central, much like many high schools across the nation, some students host irresponsible parties. I know, you probably knew about that already. What is genuinely shocking, though, is the fact that parents are often fully aware of these parties, even sometimes promoting that behavior. They claim that they would rather their child do those things under their "watchful" eyes (and yes, I use that term very lightly in this instance), rather than out and about.

It seems as though we have done everything we can to inform our community about the dangers of teen drinking and alcohol use, right? I mean, Hunterdon Central's education system does seemingly all they can to educate students on the dangers of drugs and alcohol. From your basic health classes, to presentations from school leaders, to the Teen Prevention Education Program, it seems they have all of their bases covered in regards to educating the kids. But do you know who we miss? That's right, the parents. And do you know who often allows that behavior? Right again, it's the parents.

Let's face it, it's a different world now than it was 40 years ago, and some parents just haven't moved forward. But it isn't entirely their fault, either. As the Hunterdon Prevention Resource Center and the Safe Coalition, I believe it is our responsibility to educate the adults in our community about the dangers of their teens with drinking and doing drugs. According to the Wall Street Journal, parents allowing teens to drink at home is a polarizing topic, and "Nearly 6% of 12 to 14 year olds - some 700,000 middle schoolers - drank alcohol in the past month." One reason for this is that parents are not fully aware of is the exact dangers that substance misuse as a teen can pose to their child's future.

According to a study conducted by the University of California, San Diego, those effects are potentially long-lasting and very detrimental. It states that the decision-making and memory portions of the brain are not fully developed until a person is in his or her mid-20s, and that alcohol can prevent normal growth in those areas. This study was spearheaded by professor of psychiatry Susan Tapert, who also explains, "Adolescents who engage in binge drinking (that is, having five or more drinks on occasion for boys, or four or more drinks on occasion for females) tend to show some brain abnormalities in their brain's white matter. That's the fibers that connect different parts of our brains." This means that teen drinking actually does physical harm to the brains of teens involved, and that harm has lasting effects.

This can be prevented, though, according to the National Council on Alcohol and Drug Dependence and the journal Prevention Science. A study recorded in Prevention Science claims that students who participated in a "5 month home-based alcohol prevention program" were much less likely to drink in future situations than those who hadn't. The National Council on Alcohol and Drug Dependence then explained that this study, along with others, has determined that, "...parents who set effective and strict alcohol-related rules, while maintaining a warm and supportive family environment, reduce the risk of binge drinking in their teens." We need to properly inform misinformed parents, and get our community back on track against teen substance misuse.

We can do this through many platforms, as well. From PSAs, to social media posts, and even letters to the editor of our local newspapers, we need to do everything we can to promote this issue and inform parents about the very serious dangers of teen drinking and drug use. One possible way to accomplish this is through a partnership with the schools, many of which have already begun to attempt to solve this problem themselves. For example, at Hunterdon Central Regional High School, students and parents are required to attend an assembly before being awarded a parking spot. During this assembly, presentations are made and videos are shown to inform the young adults and their parents about the dangers of teen drinking and other substance misuse. It is quite informative, but one presentation in four years is most definitely not enough. Through a partnership with schools, more presentations can be made, either before students' freshman year, or before they begin a sport or club, or really at any point during the year. There could also be a constant communication between the Safe Coalition and parents that can be created through the school. Through email, the Safe Coalition can inform parents about anything from statistics and information to upcoming events, and generally keep parents more involved. In a problem that stems from parents being unaware, the first step to solving it has to be communication. Communication with help from schools could be very beneficial, because it helps set a no tolerance policy in school and the community, and hopefully transfer that over into the home.

Simply, in order to make Hunterdon County a safer place to grow up in, live in, and even raise children in, we need to prevent teen drinking and drug use. We have done all we can to inform and educate the community's teens, but we have often fallen short in regards to properly informing and educating our community's parents. With parents often allowing certain "partying" behaviors to occur, we need to do all we can to inform them about the danger their sons and daughters could be in, and that would be a very strong first step in making Hunterdon County a much safer place for everyone here.

Patrick did a great job capturing a problem in Hunterdon County and how to fix it. We are proud to see his outstanding work and contribution to our community!



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