Party: Graduation Celebrations Often Leave Teens at Risk
By Stephen Wallace, M.S. Ed.
school commencements will soon mark a time of pomp, circumstance
and underage drinking. Aided and abetted by the very adults
charged with their safety, teens too often confuse celebration with
intoxication, leaving them at risk for the serious consequences
associated with adolescents and alcohol.
adult America's enabling of underage drinking is a profound lack
of awareness of its costs and the physical, social, and emotional
toll it takes on teens.
National Research Council and Institute of Medicine of the National
Academies report, Reducing Underage Drinking: A Collective Responsibility,
notes a disturbing trend of adult procurement of alcohol for teens.
Moreover, it points to the resulting $53 billion a year in losses
from traffic deaths, violent crime, and other destructive behavior.
are the facts about youth and alcohol.
younger a child is when he starts to drink, the higher the chances
he will have alcohol-related problems later in life.
*Alcohol use by teens affects still-developing cognitive abilities
and impairs memory and learning.
*Teens who drink are more likely to commit or be the victim of violence
(including sexual assault) and to experience depression and suicidal
*Alcohol-related automobile crashes kill thousands of teens each
year and injure millions more.
It's also a fact that young people use alcohol more frequently,
and more heavily, than all other drugs combined. Teens Today research
from SADD and Liberty Mutual Group reveals that drinking increases
significantly between the 6th and 7th grades; that the average age
for teens to start drinking is thirteen years old; and that by 12th
grade, more than three in four teens are drinking.
many young people fall prey to the "Myth of Invincibility,"
believing that there are no real, or lasting, effects of alcohol
use. They're wrong.
turn, many of their parents subscribe to the "Myth of Inevitability,"
convinced that drinking is a rite of passage and that there's not
much they can do to influence their child's choices (according to
Teens Today, more than half of parents believe that "drinking
is part of growing up" and teens "will drink no matter
than a third of middle and high school students say they have not
*Parents who talk with their teens about underage drinking, set
expectations, and enforce consequences are significantly less likely
to have children who drink.
a plethora of house parties dotting the path home from graduation
reveals a commonly held view among adults that allowing teens to
drink in private homes will keep them safe. It won't. Anyway, what
gives the parent of one child the right to decide for the parent
of another that such behavior is harmless and appropriate?
angry mother said, "I thought it was enough to make sure the
parents would be home and supervising. It never occurred to me I
had to ask if they were going to let the kids drink."
the undermining doesn't stop there. Young people who would otherwise
choose not to drink face a dilemma when adults make the offer. As
one teen put it, "They don't even give us a chance to make
the right decisions."
legal and ethical ramifications of allowing or facilitating underage
drinking are enormous - and fortunately not lost on a growing number
of states beefing up prosecution of complicit adults. But, not until
all segments of our society - including the parents who make the
rules and supervise the teens - speak with one, clear, unambiguous
voice about the perils of underage drinking will we successfully
shatter the myths of invincibility and inevitability that propel
best way to honor teens at graduation is to help them safely celebrate
their achievement. Hosting alcohol-free parties, clearly communicating
expectations for personal behavior, and enforcing consequences for
violating the rules are just a few good ways to start.
graduates have done their work. Now it is time to do ours.
Wallace, national chairman and chief executive officer of SADD,
Inc. (Students Against Destructive Decisions), has broad experience
as a school psychologist and adolescent counselor. SADD and the
National Highway Traffic Safety Administration sponsor the Think
About It ... Prom & Graduation Season campaign available to
schools nationwide. For more information about SADD, call toll-free
877-SADD-INC. The SADD/Liberty Mutual Teens Today research can be
found at www.sadd.org and libertymutualinsurance.com.
Communications Management Corporation
2005 All Rights Reserved. Reprinted with Permission.