Underage drinking has been considered a problem in this country for much longer than I’ve been alive, but the problem seems to have intensified in the last 5-10 years. This is in part due to increased awareness of the tragedies that happen when teenagers who were poorly educated about the dangers involved in drinking or using drugs.
The debate for parents of teenagers is a difficult one–do you strictly prohibit drinking or promote doing so in moderation and while making safe decisions? Do you allow your children to have a glass of wine or beer in your home, or not allow any alcohol what-so-ever?
One recent article tells the story of a mother who told her son not to drink, but also told him that if he did drink he absolutely shouldn’t drive. He died of alcohol poisoning with a BAC of .41 at age 18, shortly after graduating high school and moving out with a friend, when friends convinced him to chug rum. His mother has told her younger son that she doesn’t want him to drink until he is 21, and to the best of her knowledge he hasn’t.
Another story in the same article told of a mother who has broken up parties her kids were at and grounded them for drinking when they were in their younger teens. Now that they are in there later teens, she allows the occasional beer or glass of wine but will not serve their friends. For her 18 year old son’s prom and his spring break trip, she took measures such as organizing a limo and taking away car keys to try to ensure their safety.
Although she would never provide alcohol to her kids, she knows that the risk is there. “It’s probably unrealistic, she says, for parents to forbid alcohol to older teens outright. Instead, she teaches moderation, safety and responsibility.”
The struggle that parents encounter on these topics is certainly not without cause. Over the weekend 12 students at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, at an annual event this article calls Blackout Weekend. According to statistics, 1,700 college students die each year in alcohol related incidents, or 4 students every day; almost 600,000 are injured unintentionally; nearly 700,000 are assaulted and an additional 97,000 are sexually assaulted.
Officials at the University of Iowa are changing their freshman orientation alcohol education segment in order to try and prevent some of these alcohol related tragedies. This year’s presentation will be interactive, and encourage students and their parents to talk about issues. Parents will take the same seminar as their children, instead of hearing a separate presentation as they have in past years. University officials hope that these conversations will continue on the drive home, and throughout the student’s college experiences. I think that this is a step in the direction and it will be interesting to hear feedback and statistics from the university after implementing this approach.
What do you think about the underage drinking problem in the United States? What can we do to help work against it?