By Hector Gonzalez
April 22, 2015 -- In the wake of a survey that found students in the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District far outpace their peers when it comes to binge drinking, local parents will get a first-hand look this weekend at exactly what goes on at a teenage drinking party.
The Reality Party (#ItsTooEasy), a unique event sponsored by Santa Monica police and school officials, is a “mock high school party” where parents and other adults will get a glimpse into “what can really go on at underage get-togethers,” said Sarah Blanch, spokeswoman for the event.
“It's an important, first-ever event like this for Santa Monica,” said Blanch.
The event is hosted by the CLARE Foundation and the Westside Impact Project, social service agencies that tackle substance abuse, and Straight Up Reality Improv, the Ventura County project that developed the reality parties.
Adults will take a 30-minute walk through a simulated high school party at which students from Santa Monica High will act out scripted “yet realistic” scenes depicting drinking games and the “relentless peer pressure to binge drink and the accessibility of popular drugs,” Blanch said.
“The tour will be followed by a debriefing session with SMPD, mental health professionals and school administrators to discuss solutions together as a community and to promote social change,” said Blanch.
In Santa Monica, 50 percent of high school juniors reported alcohol as “very easy” to get, while 40 percent reported having at least one drink in the past 30 days and 26 percent confessed to binge drinking in the past 30 days, according to the 2014 California Health Kids Survey. (“Santa Monica, Malibu High School Juniors Out-Drink Their Counterparts in the State,” February 4, 2015)
By comparison, 16 percent of high school juniors in the Los Angeles Unified School District confessed on the survey to binge drinking within the past 30 days.
Twelve percent of SMMUSD juniors reported they had been “very drunk” or got sick from drinking seven or more times, the survey found.
SMMUSD spokeswoman Gail Pinsker said the district’s involvement in the Reality Party is one way that local school officials are working to address the problem.
“We value the partnership between the City of Santa Monica, Santa Monica Police Department and the organizations involved in working together to address this issue facing our youth,” said Pinsker. “SMMUSD, along with our partners, is interested in expanding drug and alcohol education and prevention programs for our parents and students.”
SMPD Sgt. Saul Rodriguez will take part in the panel discussion following the mock party.
“We’re glad the Reality Party will provide a forum for our community to discuss underage drinking and drug use, which are one of the big challenges parents can face,” said Rodriguez. “It’s a community problem that requires a community solution.”
Santa Monica police so far this year have conducted at least two “shoulder tap” decoy operations targeting adults who buy alcohol for minors, part of the department’s ongoing efforts to hit back at underage drinking, SMPD spokesman Rudy Camarena said earlier this month following the departments most-recent shoulder tap enforcement on April 6.
Brenda Simmons, director of the Westside Impact Project, a program funded by the County of Los Angeles that aims to reduce alcohol-related problems in Santa Monica, said parents too often are in the dark about the pressure to drink and take drugs that their teens face from their peers.
“In my experience, people aren’t aware about the amount of exposure and peer pressure youth experience when it comes to drugs and alcohol,” said Simmons.
“The goal of the Reality Party is to create an opportunity for parents, administrators and community leaders to come together to discuss how we can better protect our youth from the misuse and abuse of drugs and alcohol,” she said.
Underage drinking is a major health problem, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Alcohol is more abused by teens than cigarettes and tobacco and is linked to 4,300 deaths a year among minors, according to the CDC’s website.
Prevention strategies like Reality Parties are becoming more prevalent in raising awareness about the high rates of underage drinking and drug use, CLARE Foundation officials said.
“In my opinion, prevention is our first line of defense in this fight against substance abuse and alcoholism,” said CLARE Foundation Executive Director Nicholas Vrataric.
“The more we can work together to inform parents, educators and the community about the realities of teenage drug and alcohol abuse, the more we can empower teens to make healthy life choices.”
The Realty Party is scheduled for Saturday, April 25, from 2 to 7 p.m. The location of the event will be provided at the time of registration, said Blanch. To register, visit http://www.WestsideImpactProject.org/realtyparty.