HERE WE GO… After two years of COVID restrictions, proms, graduations, and graduation parties can be held again with friends and family. But this season, COVID may not be the biggest risk to our youth. In fact, one of the biggest risks to our youth is right in your own homes.
Part of my job as the Sr. Agent with Medway Drug Enforcement Agency is to go into high schools in Wayne County to work on substance use prevention. We approach this important aspect of our job by discussing the dangers of using drugs and alcohol as a teenager and the potential for lifelong or life-ending consequences that can be associated with these choices.
I handle my time in the classroom a little differently than most presenters. I start by saying, “List three things that are negatively impacting students at YOUR high school – please don’t say a specific teacher.” From there the class dictates the topics we discuss. With a little fun and open-ended question and no restrictions, you can imagine the number of things the students throw out. Social media, bullying, mental health, peer pressure, and homework are often listed. But undoubtedly, vaping, drugs, and alcohol are the most common answers no matter what school it is.
Today I want to focus on just one of the things your students tell me are negatively impacting their lives: alcohol. “Why alcohol?” you ask. Well, it’s simple. My experience in having real conversations with your kids in our schools tells me this: alcohol is often abused by teenagers, and it is abused by teens because it’s “so easy to get ahold of.” When I ask, “How many of your parents have alcohol in the home?” You can imagine many hands in the room go up. Then I follow up with the question, “How many of your parents lock up the alcohol in the home?” You can imagine how many hands are quickly dropped.
Your teens know what alcohol is in their house, their friends’ houses, and relatives’ homes. They know what alcohol they could easily consume without you catching them or noticing it being gone. Every year about this time a national campaign is kicked off called “Parents Who Host, Lose the Most.” You may have seen the yard signs, banners, billboards, and social media posts associated with this campaign. The campaign, designed by Prevention Action Alliance, is meant to remind parents of the risks of hosting or providing alcohol to underage youth during the prom and graduation season.
So just how common is underage consumption? According to the 2019 Youth Risk Behavior Survey (the most recent data available):
- 29% had consumed alcohol in the last thirty (30) days
- 14% of high school students binge drank (drinking large amounts of alcohol in a short period of time)
- 5% of high school students admitted they drove after consuming alcohol
- 17% of students admitted they rode with another student who had been drinking alcohol
Let those numbers sink in for just a minute. While I know this percentage was for all high school-age students, let’s break it down percentage-wise to the graduating classes of most of our high schools. That’s saying if your school is graduating 100 students, 29 of those 100 graduates consumed alcohol in the last thirty days, 14 binge drank, 5 drove after drinking and 17 of them rode with someone who had been drinking. As a parent, those numbers scare me. Because of my experience as a law enforcement officer with more than 24 years of experience, I know the dangers. I’ve seen the crashes from OVIs, I’ve notified parents of their children’s death, and I personally lost an uncle to an OVI-related crash.
Let’s review the excuses I hear from adults about allowing underage alcohol use. “I took all of their keys, that way I know they are staying and not behind the wheel and not going to hurt themselves or anyone else, so they are safe.”
Is the risk of being involved in an OVI crash substantial? Yes.
Is it the only risk underage young adults who consume alcohol face? Absolutely not.
- Alcohol poisoning
- Changes in brain development
- Increased risk of suicide and homicide
- Unwanted, unplanned, or unprotected sexual activity
- School problems such as suspension, expulsion, or exclusion from events
- Physical problems such as hangovers and vomiting, falling and hitting their heads
And let’s not forget the legal problems such as an arrest for OVI, underage consumption/possession, or potentially injuring someone else.
But this article isn’t just about what problems our youth face. You, as a parent, can also face criminal charges and be found civilly liable for injuries or death as a result of furnishing underage youth alcohol. A conviction in Ohio for providing alcohol to underage persons or permitting it on a property you are responsible for can result in up to six (6) months in jail and up to a one thousand dollar ($1,000) fine per underage consumer. Putting aside the criminal risks, think of the guilt associated with being involved in the fatality of a youth or someone else in your community. Can you live with that, walking into a grocery store, restaurant, or school and everyone knowing, “that’s the one who gave so-and-so the alcohol”?
I believe it’s everyone’s responsibility to ensure the safety of our youth, not just your child, but for all the others in your community. Stay involved in your children’s lives, know who their friends are and who their friends’ parents are, double-check with parents that supervision at parties will take place, and have the real conversation that you do not approve of your child consuming alcohol at their house or anywhere else. Communicate with your kids about the dangers of alcohol consumption and make sure they know to speak up and if necessary, stand alone when others are making poor decisions. Don’t be a problem in the community, be part of the solution and prevention of a problem.
Be safe. Be responsible. Most of all, be a parent, not a friend!