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Parents, Teens and Alcohol...A Dangerous Mix

It's up to parents to remind their teens that too many drinks ingested either accidentally or intentionally can result in alcohol poisoning, and sometimes death, asserts National Family Partnership spokesperson Milton Creagh.

"Alcohol is a drug that numbs the brain. If too much is used, it paralyzes the nerve center in the brain and puts the brain to sleep. When the brain slows down, so does the respiratory system," says Creagh. "When the lungs and heart stop sending oxygen to the brain, breathing stops. Are you going to monitor every teen at your party to make sure there's no binge drinking going on?"

In fact, the Centers for Disease Control reports that 32 percent of high schoolers are binge-drinkers. Yet a poll conducted by the group Drug Strategies showed that only three percent of parents thought their teens had indulged in binge-drinking in the past month.

In 1997 a 16-year-old Orland Park, IL, girl won an $80 bet by chugging a quart of 107-proof alcohol at a party. The high school sophomore drank for six hours before they returned to her best friend's house at 2 AM and fell asleep. They found her dead the next day. Her blood alcohol level was .381, more than four times the amount that is considered "safe."

"'Making it 'safe' for kids to drink is a complete contradiction of terms!" maintains Shepherd Smith, president of the Washington, DC-based Institute for Youth Development. "We have laws regulating use by age because of the lack of physical =and psychological maturity. We've learned that people under the age of 21 have dramatically impaired judgement."

Smith urges parents to rethink just what 'responsible drinking' is for someone under the age of 18. "Parents think THEY did it, so their kids can do it too. After all, parents don't want to say what they did as teens was all wrong." What should you do if you find out that your teen is going to a party where parents are serving alcohol? "You can say, 'You can't go', or you can call the parents and remind them in a non-confrontational way that neighbors often call the police and it's embarrassing and legally costly to parents when they are arrested. When police come to break up a party, everyone is arrested, even those who are not drinking," suggests Smith. "Some parents even call the police and ask them to call the parents and remind them what the consequences could be."

Creagh recounts a party two years ago when parents let their teenager have a drinking party. They collected the car keys and went upstairs. But there was a fight and one of the boys was stabbed to death. The fingerprints of another guest were on a knife and he was charged with murder, yet he never remembered stabbing the boy because he was so drunk.

"Adults who serve alcohol are playing economic Russian Roulette," Creagh maintains. "I say to them, 'If you can't dig deep and find the moral backbone to refuse to serve alcohol to your teenagers and their friends, then at least look at the legal ramifications that could cost you all your money. Maybe that will pound some sense into your head.'"

"Parents are supposed to have arrived at maturity, while kids are supposed to be passing through adolescence on the way to adulthood. You can empathize, but you don't have to join your teen," familyeducation.com's Kendrick asserts. "They need you to point them in the right direction and keep them safe. You're supposed to give them wisdom, not a keg party in the basement."


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