by Steena Hymes
Teen drinking was the focus of a Thursday night Town Hall meeting at McIntosh High School hosted by AVPRIDE where TV personality Judge Glenda Hatchett was invited to speak candidly to students and parents about underage drinking, charging families to take a stand against alcohol abuse among young people.
The Oct. 22 meeting was a student-led initiative from AVPRIDE and Fayette Youth Leaders PRIDE. The forum included student panelists, psychologist Dr. Susan May, Charles Popov of Grace Harbour, and family law attorney Catherine Sanderson, who all participated in a discussion about teen drinking.
“When I was asked to come, I immediately said ‘yes’, because anytime we can have the community come together in a forum where we can have a very real talk about things that help your young people, the community can only get better,” Hatchett said.
Hatchett, of The Hatchett Firm, served for many years as the Chief Judge of Juvenile Court in Fulton. As well, she had her own court television show “Judge Hatchett”.
Hatchett said she hoped the forum would not only address the problem but also encourage parents and students to communicate with one another and accept responsibility.
“We have really got to come together and talk about what this means, and if it saves one life or one kid from a life of addiction, it is worth every minute of it,” she said.
Hatchett said statistics show that teenagers who start drinking early are four times more likely to abuse alcohol as an adult. She shared a personal story about her own brother whom she called a “functional alcoholic” to show the danger and realities of teen alcohol abuse.
“He started drinking when he was in high school and to this day, even though he has been in and out of treatment, my brother is an alcoholic,” Hatchett said. “I’ve helped thousands of people who are alcoholics; it still breaks my heart that I haven’t been able to help him.”
Hatchett also spoke to parents urging them to not be in denial and not be afraid to say “no”.
“Somewhere too many parents stopped being parents and thought it was more important to be their child’s friend,” she said.
In her book, Say What you Mean and Mean What You Say!, Hatchett pointed to a chapter directing parents to learn to say “no”.
“No means no means no,” she said. “If you have to be the only parent standing and you know what’s right – then do it.”
Hatchett, students and the panel of experts discussed the underlying reasons for teen drinking and how to prevent alcohol abuse.
Several students came to the microphone to share their stories about stress, disconnection and peer pressure as reasons for drinking.
Other students told stories about their peers who they have watched fall into teen alcoholism, destroying their grades, relationships and high school athletic careers.
Hatchett said helping young people with alcohol-related problems starts with communication within the family.
“I can’t stress how much this communication piece means. Parents, we need to be willing to listen with more than just our ears. We have to listen with our hearts and with our eyes,” she said.
Michael Mumper, Assistant Program Coordinator for AVPRIDE, said the town hall meeting is just one part in the organization’s alcohol awareness campaign. Mumper said they are also implementing an alcohol education curriculum in the middle schools.
Starrs Mill High School junior and FYLP student Joel Boggs said the town hall meeting was meant to take the discussion beyond just another school assembly or class lecture.
“It makes it official,” he said, adding that Hatchett brought a sense of validity and urgency to the problem of teen drinking.
In her closing charge to parents and students, Hatchett asked that they would not ignore the problem any longer.
“There is no simple fix but this. I do know from years and years and years from work in the juvenile court… we have to care about one another. We have to touch one another. We’ve got to start with the people closest to us. Don’t be in denial.”