Line in the sand july 2012
Author: Frank Dunne, Jr. & Courtney Hampson | Photographer: Photography by Anne
This thing just gets weirder and weirder. A year ago, Courtney and I locked horns over the institution of marriage. She, although newly bespoken at the time, argued unsuccessfully that marriage is outdated. I, a lifelong bachelor, argued successfully in marriage’s favor. Now we’ve got advice on how to handle underage drinking with your kids, even though neither of us has any children.
So I will submit to you our qualifications. I was once a teenager and, to the best of my knowledge, so was Courtney. I say that irrespective of my suspicion that she’s an alien from a planet where people are born as adults with faulty information preprogrammed into their brains. But I digress. I’ll assume the former and add the fact that as upstanding, influential members of the adult community, she and I have plenty of married-with-children friends who have to deal with this issue. We’re not in the game, but we have 50-yardline seats. Besides, we know you love “A Line in the
Sand” and know you’re going to read it anyway.
We’re on this subject because Courtney saw pre-prom party photos with kids holding alcoholic drinks on Facebook. She was aghast because, presumably, some of the kids’ parents hosted the parties. The question is, are these parents wrong to serve alcohol to their kids if they’re under 21?
First of all, what’s up with 21 anyway? Where is it written that 21-year-olds are any better equipped to drink alcoholic beverages than 19-year-olds? Have you ever been to a college campus or the “Barmuda Triangle” late at night? Twenty-one is just a nonsensical, arbitrary number. What if the drinking age was 18? Surely there are some 18-year-olds in those photos. Would we be having this discussion?
People who are inclined to abuse alcohol are going to follow that path regardless of when the state says they can start drinking. Sad but true. The place to teach kids the difference between enjoying alcohol with self-restraint and abusing it is in the home. As I’m thinking about this subject, I recall a magazine ad that ran many years ago around Father’s Day for Chivas Regal or Crown Royal…I don’t quite remember which. The copy read something to the effect of, “Here’s a toast to all the fathers who’ve taught their sons the virtues of drinking in moderation.”
That’s the key here—parents setting the right example. Kids who grow up watching Pops get pie-eyed every night after work aren’t getting a very positive message. On the other hand, if the folks exhibit responsible drinking habits throughout their children’s upbringing, that’s what they’ll take away. The choice to imbibe often comes while parents still have the opportunity to influence how their kids go about it, so why not use a rite of passage into adulthood like Prom Night as one small lesson in responsible merrymaking? Treat them like adults and let them enjoy a simple champagne toast to kick off a formal evening, just like grownups do. It’s really no different from and just as harmless as parents allowing their kids a glass of wine with dinner on special occasions, a taste of eggnog at Christmas or a sip of the bubbly on New Year’s Eve.
Like I said, I spent seven years as a teenager, so I’m not oblivious to the fact that kids like to push boundaries, and I’ll bet dollars to doughnuts that some of the young squires in those prom photos had a flask of a little somethin’ stashed away somewhere. Remember your prom, Daddy-O? Spring for a limo or a taxi, or offer to play chauffeur yourself…lots of emphasis added.
Facebook does such a good job of suggesting people who should be your “friends” that last month the daughter of a business colleague was suggested. Never one to ignore what Facebook thinks is best for me, I clicked her picture and boy, was I surprised. Surprised to find a 17-year-old’s Facebook profile picture to be the full landscape shot of her and her high school prom-going friends in the back of a limo, each with a drink in hand, champagne flutes, beer, rocks glasses, etc.
My first thought was, wow! My parents would have killed me. My second thought was why aren’t her parents bothered by this? Or the parents of her friends. Or her friends who have strict parents who might be on Facebook. (Aren’t all good parents friends with their kids’ friends so they can keep an eye on ’em?) Yikes.
After some further recognizance and some general questions to parents of teens, I discovered that this incident is not rare. Apparently it is not out of the question for parents to ply their kiddos with cocktails pre- and post-prom. I’m not thrilled with this revelation.
Before we get in too deep, let me say that I have no children, so my only experience here is as a former child myself—the child of very strict parents. My mom claims she wasn’t strict, but it sure felt that way when I was grounded for all of spring break for going in an older boy’s car, but I digress.
My parents weren’t big drinkers. My dad’s extremely rare drink of choice was a Black Russian or White Zinfandel, which raises a whole other set of questions, but let’s not go there. I’ve seen my mom consume hard liquor twice in her life, once on New Year’s Eve 1985 and again at my sister’s wedding in 2002, with the same friend from the ’85 incident. I seem to remember a lot of eye watering, choking and jumping up and down after said shots. Suffice it to say, I didn’t grow up in a party house, and it is unfathomable to think that my parents would have been okay with me having a few high schools friends over and getting a keg. I still remember the shock on my mom’s face (and probably mine) when I broke in my new ID on my 21st birthday, bought a six pack of beer, marched into the kitchen and placed it in the fridge. I’m not even sure I drank it, but the power to buy it was just too much to handle.
Now, I’m no saint, and I’m not suggesting that I never drank underage. But when you chase gin with a Bartle’s & James Wine Cooler just once, the allure of alcohol quickly dissipates. I still dry heave when I see or smell either. But it is a completely different story when parents are providing their underage children with alcohol, whether it is an “innocent” pre-prom toast or keg stands at the graduation party.
Sorry to be the stick in the mud on this one, but I don’t think there is anything innocent about breaking the law. Or breaking the law on your children’s behalf. Or breaking the law for your children’s friends. It turns my stomach a tad, almost as much as gin.
A Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) report published in July 2011 states that in South Carolina, of the population ages 12-20, 22.3 percent had consumed alcohol in the month prior to the collection of data. (In one month! Not hey, did you try any alcohol this year?) The largest “offenders” are the 18- 20-year-olds (college students, no shock here), 43 percent of whom had consumed alcohol in the last 30 days. That was 49,000 kids, last June, in South Carolina alone, breaking the law. Why would a parent knowingly contribute to this scary trend?—a trend that leads to other risk factors.
The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (which, like SAMSHA, is a division of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services) reported just this past April that drinking affects college students, their families, and college communities at large. Consequences include:
• Death. Each year, an estimated 1,825 college students between the ages of 18 and 24 die from alcohol-related unintentional injuries, including motor vehicle crashes.
• Injury. Each year, an estimated 599,000 students between the ages of 18 and 24 are unintentionally injured under the influence of alcohol.
• Assault. Each year, more than 696,000 college students between the ages of 18 and 24 are assaulted by another student who has been drinking.
• Sexual Abuse. An estimated 97,000 students are victims of alcohol-related sexual assault or date rape.
• Unsafe sex. Of 400,000 students having unprotected sex, 100,000 of them do not even remember if they consented to sex.
• Academic consequences. About one quarter of college students report having academic consequences because of their drinking, including missing class, falling behind, doing poorly on exams or papers, and receiving lower grades overall.
I say we keep our high schoolers dry as long as we can. Why encourage a trend that is already spiraling out of control?