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Friday, Dec. 19, 2014

Complacency fuels underage drinking

Friday, June 5, 2009

As we approach the dangerous summer season, a time when the number of teen fatalities rises, let's make time to rally in defense of youth.

Too often adults fail kids because of a complacency about underage drinking. What if all adults embraced and invested in the proven strategies that help to keep youth safe and alive?

Another senseless prom night tragedy recently left a Massachusetts woman dead and an 18-year-old high school senior behind bars, perhaps for a very long time. According to the police report, the male student admitted to drinking 10 beers between the 4:30 a.m. conclusion of the school-sponsored event, and the 7:30 a.m. car crash.

Sadly, we've heard it all before.

The good news is that some things have changed. Almost systematically, more progressive schools have ramped up education and enforcement efforts, instituting everything from awareness assemblies to Breathalyzer exams, fortunately focusing not just on prom but, necessarily, on all types of school events and activities. Though educators can do only so much.

That's where the bad news comes in.

Across the land there is a concerning complacency among many adults, including -- strikingly -- parents of teens themselves. Indeed, many communities have a not-so-subtle culture of ignoring, accepting, or even facilitating underage drinking, leaving parents divided, school officials exasperated, and kids at risk.

Underlying the malaise are three myths that perpetuate the epidemic that is underage drinking.

1. The Myth of Improbability: Other kids may be drinking alcohol, but mine isn't. Fact: Compared to what their parents say about them, high school students are eight times more likely to say they use alcohol.

2. The Myth of Inevitability: Kids are going to drink no matter what (more than half of parents believe this, according to SADD's Teens Today research). Fact: More than one in three teens say they have never even tried alcohol.

3. The Myth of Irrelevancy: Teenagers don't listen to what their parents have to say. Fact: Parents are the number one reason why teens make good choices, especially those who initiate dialogue, establish expectations, and enforce consequences.

Many young people say that their parents know they attend parties where underage drinking is taking place yet don't raise the subject. And more than one quarter of parents say adults in their area allow older teens to drink alcohol in their homes if the teens aren't going to be driving, according to a Harris Interactive/Wall StreetJournal poll.

Of course, kids and cars are only part of the problem. Adults who subscribe to this myth also seem to assume that impaired driving is the only danger associated with underage drinking. In truth, many kids die nowhere near an automobile, victims of acute alcohol intoxications, asphyxiations, assaults, accidents, and drownings.

In King Lear, William Shakespeare wrote, "You will gain nothing if you invest nothing."

And such is the case regarding underage drinking. Summer is upon us. It's time we rally in defense of our kids.