Monday, June 24, 2013

Rant: Teens, Binge Drinking & Irresponsible Parents

Parents, do you care that you may be causing brain damage to your children? Do you care whether you get arrested and maybe face prison? Do you care that you might have to pay millions of dollars in compensation? This is your wake-up call so pay close attention or otherwise face the consequences of your reckless behavior.

During this season of high school graduations, proms, and other related occasions, why do some parents allow alcohol-fueled parties at their homes for underage teenagers? I am not talking about letting your children drink a glass or two of wine or beer with dinner. I am talking about parties where cases of beer, bottles of hard liquor and other alcohol are available to teenagers and where they generally can drink as much as they like. What the hell are these parents thinking?

The most common reason given seems to be that the parents would rather their children drank in front, or near them, rather than sneak it outside somewhere. I think that is a weak argument, and the situation can cause far more harm than good.

It is extremely doubtful that the only time those teenagers are drinking is at a home sanctioned party. They are doing so in the woods, at homes where the parents are away, in parks, and elsewhere. There are parties every weekend somewhere. Many of these teens are not just sipping a beer or two. They are getting drunk, swigging down beer after beer, or shot after shot. Letting those children drink at a house sanctioned party only tells them that is it ok to drink at other times as well.

Compounding this matter is that when those drunken teens stumble home from their unsanctioned parties, their overly permissive parents might gently chide them, if even that, and the scene will get repeated time and time again. The teens know their parents won't really do anything about their drunkenness, so they have no incentive to curb their behavior. And that behavior comes with a cost those parents are not even considering.

Even at a house sanctioned, I think parents are deluding themselves if they think they have it under control. Do they personally ensure that each and every underage child at their party does not drink too much? How do they monitor that? Do they personally monitor and inspect each and every child as they enter and leave the party? Or are the parents off in another room of the house, allowing the children their freedom? It seems likely the parents are not in the main room with all of the teenagers. How many children want their parents hovering around their party, watching everything? I generally believe that any monitoring is lax, and fails to accomplish its intended purpose.

What harms could result from the action of these parents?

First, such behavior is illegal, a violation of Massachusetts General Law, Chapter 138, Section 34, which states in part: "whoever furnishes any such beverage or alcohol for a person under 21 years of age shall be punished by a fine of not more than $2,000 or by imprisonment for not more than one year or both. For the purpose of this section the word “furnish” shall mean to knowingly or intentionally supply, give, or provide to or allow a person under 21 years of age except for the children and grandchildren of the person being charged to possess alcoholic beverages on premises or property owned or controlled by the person charged." By allowing an alcohol-fueled party for your underage children's friends, you could be fined or even go to prison. Is it worth the risk?

As an example this year, there was an arrest of parents in Connecticut for hosting an underage drinking party as well as an arrest of an adult in Hingham for the same. And every year, there seems to be other parents and adults arrested for allowing parties at their homes where alcohol is served to minors. Do you really want to be in the news, maybe even on the front page, for such an arrest? What example does that serve to your children?

Second, you open yourself up to potential civil liability if one of the drunk, underage teenagers at your party injures themselves or others. Every year we read about a deadly drunk driving accident involving a teenager. In 2010, according to statistics from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, about 30% of the 15-20 year olds that were killed in automobile crashes had a blood alcohol content of .01 or higher while 25% had a blood alcohol content of 08 or higher. That doesn't consider all of the other drunk driving accidents that occur where there is serious injury, but not loss of life.

No matter how many times teenagers are warned about the dangers of drunk driving, some of them still do it each year. Some parents like to think that their children are smart enough not to drink and drive, but teenagers don't always make the best decisions. They think they are invulnerable, that bad things happen to other people, not themselves. They screw up, cause they are teenagers and sometimes  don't choose the right thing to do.

Do you really want to be partially responsible for a death or serious injury of one of those children you claim you want to protect? Do you really want to open yourself up to potential liability, which could be in the millions? If you can't guarantee 100% monitoring of any such underage party, and it is probably impossible to do, then there is a possibility one of those drunk teenagers could injure or kill themselves, or someone else. I certainly wouldn't want that on my conscience. Would you?

Third, and a point that most parents don't seem to realize, is that binge alcohol drinking by teenagers can permanently harm their developing brains. In the latest issue of Scientific American Mind (Juy/August 2013), there is a disturbing article, Bad Mix For the Teen Brain by Janet Hopson. It discusses the effect of binge drinking on teenage brains and the results should scare any parent who allows their children to have alcohol-fueled parties at their homes, or who does little to curb their teen's drinking away from the house.

Approximately 24% of high school seniors and 44% of college students binge drink, which means they consume at least 4-5 drinks at a single occurrence at least once every two weeks. Just consider how many weekly alcohol parties occur with teenagers, and it is easy to see that binge drinking for some of them can occur every week, and not even every other one.

What is the harm in that? A very serious one. "An emerging body of data indicates that alcohol damages specific regions of the maturing brain." (p.68) It gets even worse.  "Periodic heavy drinking is more damaging to both body and brain than smaller amounts of alcohol consumed more often because extremely high blood alcohol levels are toxic to organs, severely impair sensory and cognitive functions, and encourage habit formation of addiction." (p.68) Teenage brains are still developing and binge drinking can wreak havoc with that development, especially in cognitive abilities. It is currently unknown whether that damage is permanent, or whether there may be a way to fix the damage. The key obviously is to protect your child from sustaining that damage in the first place, and allowing underage children to binge drink at your home is part of the problem, not the solution.

And don't expect your children to be able to control their alcohol consumption. "In addition, a youthful brain has weaker controls that would stop a person from drinking too much." (p.68) If they have access to alcohol at a party, their psychological ability to control their drinking is far less than it would be in an adult. They often make poor choices in regarding to drinking, which can cause additional damage to their maturing brains. Those weaker controls also contribute to why such teenagers may drive while they are drunk.

Stop allowing your teenage children to drink alcohol. You are not doing them any favors. Instead, you are opening yourself up to arrest, civil liability, endangering the lives of those children and you could be contributing to damaging their maturing brain. Being the cool or permissive parent is an insufficient reason to allow underage drinking. Parents, wake up and start acting like a responsible adult and do the proper thing for your children.


Adam said...

Rich, I think after a couple of weeks you created a rant without a single arguable point. I have graduated two high school boys and the line was always drawn hard in the sand. My strictest and angriest expression to a son was coming home to 8 drinking friends one evening and ripping car keys out of their hands and lining them up to test their sobriety. It was embarrassing to my son, his friends, and me. But it never happened again...that I know of:)

Wine and beer in moderate amounts with dinner was always permitted in our home, and I believe that this sensible approach to alcohol consumption helped eliminate the attraction to binge or any under age reckless drinking.

Anna said...

I agree that there is a big difference between a sip of wine at dinner to teach appreciation of food and wine from giving liquor to a group of underage minors. It is illegal and irresponsible. Young people also learn the wrong way to consume wine and other spirits. We are supposed to teach them and guide them into early adulthood. This is why parents always need to know where their kids are going and whether the parents provide proper supervision.