zootah signs

A sign encouraging parents to talk to their kids about underage drinking is posted outside the coyote exhibit at Zootah.

Officials are hoping the animals at Zootah in Logan — with the help of several informational posters — may get kids and parents talking about the risks of underage drinking.

Parents Empowered recently unveiled a series of displays at Zootah using animals to illustrate principles of underage drinking prevention.

One poster states: “Peacocks are hard to miss. Alcohol rules should be too.”

Another, outside the owl enclosure, states: “Wise parents know that most drinking happens in the home.”

The campaign, which has placed similar themed messages at Logan Aquatic Center and the bowling alley at the Cache Valley Fun Park, selected sites where parents and children are already bonding.

Local partners with Parents Empowered in the campaign include the Bear River Health Department and the Northern Utah Substance Abuse Prevention Team and the Logan City Police Department.

David Watkins, BRHD community health educator, said there’s a good reason for that.

“We know parents are the number one reason kids don’t drink, so the whole idea with this was to highlight and provide educational materials to parents throughout the summer,” Watkins said at a press event Tuesday unveiling the Zootah posters.

Three parenting skills emphasized by the campaign are bonding, boundaries and monitoring.

Bonding can include regularly eating dinner together — which can make kids a third less likely to use alcohol, according to research cited by Parents Empowered.

Boundaries include teaching kids the risks of alcohol and setting clear rules about what they’re expected to do if asked to try drinking or if there’s alcohol at a party.

Monitoring includes keeping in touch with your child’s emotional wellbeing, providing an alcohol-free environment at home for children and asking questions about kids’ plans.

Speakers at Tuesday’s event also included state Rep. Dan Johnson, Logan Police Chief Gary Jensen, Zootah Director Troy Cooper, and Sharilee Griffiths of My Discovery Destination.

“It’s been great to have these displays and banners around,” Cooper said. “And I just know we’ve had many, many comments from our visitors, personally, for myself, I’ve heard them just say how informative they are, how clean and nice they look.”

Cooper mentioned that next year will be the 50th anniversary of the zoo, formerly Willow Park Zoo.

Even after the zoo’s five decades, “the core of it has been families,” Cooper said. “We want to give back to the community. We want to do everything that we can to strengthen families here in Cache Valley.”

“Well, I have a good news bad news scenario here for you today,” Chief Jensen said. “One of the things I wanted to bring up today is that alcohol is one of the major issues that we deal with in Cache Valley and Logan city as a police department.”

The department was able to help out with the campaign thanks to a surcharge that goes along with alcohol-related citations, Jensen said.

Jensen said he sometimes encounters parents who want to give their children a safe environment in which to experiment with drugs or alcohol, but he finds that approach short-sighted.

“I guess that’s part of something to consider, but it’s not just about a safe environment,” Jensen said. “It’s about addiction, it’s about the actual use and abuse and what it does to the body and the brain. Those things are far-reaching and well down the road from a simple providing a safe environment to experiment with alcohol and drugs.”

A 2018 study published in Lancet Public Health on parents giving alcohol to their adolescents in an attempt to teach healthy habits found that the practice generally failed to be beneficial.

Rep. Johnson, a longtime public educator in Northern Utah, said when he was assistant superintendent in Tooele County, he wrote a federal grant for nearly $2 million to spread the message that “most don’t.”

“It’s an interesting way to approach trying to get somebody not to do something,” Johnson said. “And that’s to tell them that most people really don’t do it.”

Data from Tooele County showed that 20% of high school seniors hadn’t experimented with alcohol, and Johnson said he believes the campaign made a difference.

“This messaging really matters,” Johnson said.

Johson said parental involvement is key: “Many of the social ills that we have would be solved if there were a caring adult in the life of every child and they did those things of setting boundaries and providing the messaging and consequences in a family that apply to bad decisionmaking.”

staff writer

Steve Kent is city editor for The Herald Journal.