In recent months, several Lodi teens have been found intoxicated Downtown. Not only have the teenagers been drinking, but a few were so drunk they had put their lives in danger. News-Sentinel reporters Amanda Dyer and Layla Bohm asked parents, police, educators and others about how to address the issue. Here are their answers:
Tracy Stoltman, parent
Never in her wildest dreams did Tracy Stoltman think her children would be part of a discussion on underage drinking.
Before it burned out, Stoltman was an active member in the Flame Foundation, Lodi High School's former fundraising organization. She and her husband always told their children to say "no" to drugs and drunken driving. She thought she did everything right.
That was before her son Ryan landed in the hospital with alcohol poisoning last January.
Stoltman said underage drinking incidents go far beyond what's reported in the papers, and it's not just happening to the "bad kids."
"I almost lost my own child," Stoltman said.
Now, Stoltman said she is educating her other two children on the dangers of drinking too much.
She said more activities for teens in Lodi could help control drinking. Stoltman's children currently travel to Stockton to go to the bowling alley.
"There's really not a lot to do here," she said.
Stoltman also said she thinks parents need to be better informed about what their children are doing.
Not until her own son became a victim of excessive drinking did she learn about the 21-year-olds on MySpace that advertise they'll buy alcohol for minors for a $10 premium and the parents who think it's safe to let teens drink as long as they stay at home or the unsupervised bonfires out in the country.
"Parents need to be stricter on teaching their kids to wait," she said.
Jake McGregor, teen center director
Jake McGregor, executive director at the One-Eighty Teen Center, said that with role models like Britney Spears and Lindsay Lohan, it's no wonder that teens think underage drinking is acceptable behavior.
Today's teens are subjected to more of the media hype surrounding drinking, drug use and celebrities than any other previous generation, according to McGregor.
"It's tough to counter pop culture," he said.
After an incident involving teen drinking happens in Lodi, McGregor says he sees a lot of people out beating their chest, but eventually they go back to their "stucco jungle."
McGregor doesn't think the answer to the conundrum lies in another organization, though.
"I think the solution is more grassroots," he said.
McGregor said building relationships with teens and being involved in their lives is what makes the biggest impact on teenagers.
"Kids are inevitably going to put themselves into crisis situations," McGregor said. "It's about who's going to be there for them. It's relationships."
Erik Sandstrom, principal
Tokay High School principal Erik Sandstrom doesn't know why it's happening, but he has noticed that teen drinking is on the rise.
"It's been almost socially acceptable," Sandstrom said.
He cites alcohol's accessibility and parents' lax views on underage drinking as contributing factors to its rise.
Some parents will allow students to drink under their supervision, Sandstrom said. Students eventually take it a step further by drinking on their own, and that's where the trouble happens.
Sandstrom said he was disappointed at the lack of attendance at an April drug awareness meeting at Tokay High that was targeted at parents of middle and high school students districtwide.
Sandstrom said that future substance abuse education meetings will probably include more information on teen drinking.
He also said he's open to working with parents to come up with ideas to curb the problem. A collaboration between school staff, parents and groups like Alcoholics Anonymous and Crossroads could help improve the problem, Sandstrom said.
Tokay High staff breathalyzed all students attending prom this year and has worked to crack down on substance abuse campus with minimal outcry.
"We actually got a lot of pats on the back from students and parents," Sandstrom said.
Randy Rios, manager of a Downtown business
As manager of Moo Moo's Burger Barn just steps away from the movie theater on School Street, Randy Rios sees a lot.
"They fight and they get crazy," he said of the teens who gather. "I watch them dodging police. If the police are on one side of the building, they go on the other side."
Some of the teenagers simply want to grab some dinner and eat in the restaurant. That doesn't cause a problem, but then their acquaintances spot them and bang on the windows, getting every diner's attention.
"They make obscene gestures at their buddies, but everybody else sees it, too. Kids shouldn't be seeing that, if you ask me," Rios said.
He believes teens hang out Downtown because they have nowhere else to go.
Rios has fond memories of the Midnight Bean on School Street, now home to Lodi Beer Company. The coffee shop had 4,300 square feet of space filled with couches and comfortable seats. Rios hung out there - and stayed out of trouble, he said.
But the coffee shop didn't make enough money and closed nearly a decade ago, a fate similar to the bowling alley.
"I think if they got more things like bowling alleys here that would help. What else is there to do?" Rios said. "The 180 Teen Center is right across the way, but people don't want to go there because there's constant supervision."
Bob Johnson, mayor
The way to resolve the problem of teens drinking Downtown begins with their parents, said Lodi Mayor Bob Johnson.
"It starts right back with parental involvement, parental concern and making sure your child doesn't do anything stupid," he said.
Children do want and need some independence, Johnson said. But since the area near the movie theater has become such a known problem, he said parents should know better than to let their teens hang out there.
"I just don't think its reasonable or responsible to drop off hundreds of kids down there and expect nothing to go wrong," he said. "The activity level and the testosterone level is high."
He's passed the area on Friday nights and said most adults don't want to go anywhere near it, whether to watch a movie or get some ice cream.
Short of a 3 p.m. curfew every Friday afternoon - which Johnson said he wouldn't support - he said parents need to take charge and get control of their children.
K.C. Schlader, Lodi police officer
Aside from parents teaching their children the hazards of alcohol and keeping an eye on them, there's not a lot that can be done to stop teens from drinking, said Lodi Police Officer K.C. Schlader.
Schlader patrols Downtown on bicycle and works weekend nights, in large part to deal with the teen crowd at the movie theater. He watches for alcohol, but said it's hard to tell if liquor is mixed with a sports drink, or hidden in baggy clothing.
Many teens say they have nothing else to do, but Schlader thinks that's merely an excuse. A lot of them actually buy tickets to see movies and then don't even watch it.
"They basically spend $9 to sit there and hang out," he said.
Schlader said that one new phenomenon could be the amount of alcohol being consumed, and not just by youths in Lodi.
"The big thing now is to drink to the extent of excess. You've even got people dying from drinking excessive water," he said. "Nowadays they're in the mentality to see who can get the most wasted."
Most of the youths hanging out Downtown are in middle school or early high school. They have few options to go elsewhere because they don't have drivers' licenses.
The parents often have good intentions, thinking their children can enjoy a movie for a couple hours with friends. But then the parents don't stay one step ahead. Rather than finding out how long the movie lasts and picking up their child on time, they wait for a phone call.
Schlader has asked many a youth why they're hanging out rather than calling a parent for a ride, only to be told that they are "just hanging out for a little while first."
"It's not a good thing to dump your kids for four hours and hope that the police and Downtown businesses will take care of them," Schlader said.