Saturday, October 24, 2009

Just because you can....

I am probably going to step on some toes here, but I would rather take some heat for putting my nose in your business than writing a flowery memorial service for a teenager.

You have to keep your kids from drinking. Even if they hate you for it.

Yea, I did it when I was a teenager, and I am damned lucky to be alive. You probably did it too, and you might say, so what, kids are going to drink anyway, you can't stop them. Well, maybe that's true, but if you condone or enable underage drinking, you are making a terrible mistake.

This issue came to everyone's attention at Esparto High School in the past few weeks and I do not want to stir that pot or even address that particular situation. The point I am trying to make is that teenagers are more than capable of making terrible decisions all by themselves, and adding alcohol to the equation increases the chance of a poor decision becoming a life altering or life-ending decision by a factor of ten.

If you have been around alcohol for any length of time, you have seen people, adults, make terrible decisions and do stupid things. If you were out with me in my younger years, you would have seen me make some stupid decisions. I also did some things that I am ashamed of to this day. The fact that I am here, and not dead or in jail does not mean that it was okay; it just means that I rolled the dice and my number did not come up. Others I have known have not been as fortunate.

I remember a couple who were three years ahead of me in high school. They were involved in a drunk driving accident where he was killed and she was paralyzed. She ended up graduating from a wheelchair with my class after the accident. I also remember the group of Woodland High kids who were involved in a graduation week accident at "second beach" out in Knights Landing. This is not a "valley problem" or a Yolo County problem, it touches every area, every race, every economic class, it touches everyone.

People aged 12 to 20 years drink 11% of all alcohol consumed in the United States. That is shocking, at least it should be. The younger kids are when they start drinking, the more likely they are to binge drink. Now that is truly frightening.

I remember my parents allowing me to drink in high school, and I thought at the time I could handle it. I was young, strong, bullet proof, and nothing bad would happen to me. Boy was I wrong. As my son has grown older and faces these decisions, I make sure he knows where I stand. I have told him on more than one occasion that if I lived my high school years over ten times, I would surely die in six of them. If just one of the thousands of decisions I made in high school went the other way, I would be dead or crippled or worse, I would have killed or injured someone else. I shudder just thinking about living with the knowledge that my mistake, my stupidity changed or took another person's life.

That is what we are talking about here, life and death. It's not that you allow your kids to have a beer when they are at home. It's the fact that by doing so, you tell them it is okay for them to drink. I don't care if you threaten them with a beating if you ever catch them drinking at a party, or getting behind the wheel after they have been drinking. The point is, you are telling them that drinking is okay under the right conditions, and for teenagers, it is not okay. You are also teaching them that you have to have a cooler of beer in order to have a good time. That is a lesson they take with them into adulthood; it's a lesson you don't want to teach them.

High school kids may have adults sized bodies, but their decision-making abilities are just not there yet. One drink leads to two, two drinks to three and so on. People do things under the influence of alcohol that they would never do sober. I am talking about boys and girls here. It may not be a car accident that changes their life, it might be giving in to teenage urges and teenage hormones, it may be giving in to the peer pressure of drugs, it could be a thousand things that they would never do when sober. A terrible decision once made, is made. There is not reset button.

But you say, it's only beer, or I only let them drink when I am here to watch them, or its better that they drink here than somewhere else. Talk to a parent who has lost a child as result of underage drinking. I'm sure they would say do everything you can to keep your kids from drinking. Even if it means that you are the bad guy, or you have to give up being your kid's friend. You are the parent, even if you are not the best role model when it comes to alcohol, give your children the chance to grow up and make their own choices, as adults.

If you say it's none of my business, you can tell me to get lost. But I do not want to see one of my friends lose a child, or start that child down a path towards alcoholism. Being a kid is tough enough as it is. Let them grow up.

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