With a first name that is unique but not so unique as to appear in word problems on standardized tests, I was exempt for ten years from the distinct pleasure that one must feel when he sees his name in a test booklet or on a worksheet. And then, in summer school health packet of hypotheticals about drugs, it happened. “Kendall is a high school student who is obsessed with academic achievement. When she feels overwhelmed by the stress, she steals liquor from her parents’ cabinet and, by herself, drinks until she passes out. What is this behavior called?”
Binge drinking. That’s what stuck with me from summer school health--and that with a name like Kendall, a feature in an alcohol abuse example is as good as it’s going to get. A week ago, a teacher made reference to a recently released CDC study on teen drinking, and my mental photo album immediately flipped to that snapshot of a depressed overachiever, sitting alone, knocking back shots of Grey Goose. She informed us that 1 in 5 high school girls binge drink (an average of six drinks in a sitting) at least 3 times a month. That’s when I realized, even though I’m sure there are plenty of Kendalls out there using liquor as a way to literally turn out the lights on academic stresses, binge drinking extends far beyond the depressed and certainly happens in parties greater than one. Snapping out of my own immensely profound musings, I saw my teacher’s horror at the numbers and the students horror at her naivete.
My teacher’s incredulity and my peers’s surprise at her surprise and my own ignorance about alcohol-related issues spurred me on to perform a study of my own--a bit of informal polling of students and teachers. The results were...interesting. Which is to say, they ranged from hilarious to nonsensical to all too specific. I wanted to gage the varying perspectives on our current teen social culture, so I asked, “how do you think the typical Hall student spends his/her weekend nights?” Hanging out with friends was the most popular response, by far, of both faculty and students. Then came many variations on “partying and/or drinking.” Personal favorites, however, included: “Co-ed hangouts.” “On the couch.” “Looking for something to do.” (Faculty response. Thanks Ferg...so much for anonymity.) “Partying hardying.” “People in my classes study. Everyone else goes wild.”
As a follow up, I inquired, “what percentage of Hall students would you guess drink on a regular basis--at least once a month?” The majority of students guessed somewhere from 50-60% but more than a few supplied numbers below 30. The faculty supplied a range of anywhere from 20-70%. Then one very obliging senior student gave me a total breakdown: “10% of freshmen, 30% of sophomores, 60% of juniors, and 70% of seniors drink regularly.” After asking that question, I shared my inspiration, the CDC statistic, with them and asked for a reaction. No one was more than moderately surprised, except a teacher or two who condemned the practice.
Lastly, and with all the audacity I could muster, I asked my classmates the last time they drank. Summer. New Years. October. Birthday. Freshman year. The weekend. Never. I knew there would be a great difference in answers, but their honesty and candor was quite nearly universal. In that moment, I wondered how life might be different if more adults could speak of the subject with such unabashed frankness. And then I realized, oh right, I have heard of a place where that open discourse exists--anywhere in the western world but America.
Apple pie, baseball, red-white-and-blue, being with us and not the terrorists--all are about as American as hypocrisy. The teachers gave a mixed sample to support this conclusion since only some seemed to forget that they’re educating young adults and not hosting sunshine , so I began looking outside the Hall building. I got my answer at the January 15th Board of Education meeting when a concerned citizen shared information about an online survey for parents about drug and alcohol use in their teens. While I understand the admirable intentions of that survey, I chuckled to myself because the survey makes parents seem entirely oblivious to the existence of alcohol as part of the teenage social life. One question asked, “what do you think most influences teens to engage in underage drinking in West Hartford?” I’d like to respond to that question with, “well, why did you drink as a teenager?”
But that would be awkward (or, in adultspeak, “inappropriate’) to answer, now wouldn’t it? At the same time, though, the CDC study has made the national news due to a fresh burst of outrage over teenage alcohol use. Adults, in the classroom and home, have begun voicing their anger over the teen drinking problem of “today.” Not only does that condemnation grossly assume--hop, skipping, and jumping to a conclusion--that the issue somehow evolved within the last decade but also it exemplifies the classic rear view-mirror blindness that seems to have stricken most people over age thirty five. I challenge anyone who can see middle age looming on the crest of the hill to make a choice: 1) either care about alcohol and talk openly about your own consumption OR 2) stop caring and continue to pretend that you did not grow up in a similarly mundane suburb where alcohol existed.
Now the following overly pedantic lecture is not intended for those adults who: a) still use the word “Dude” b) have fessed up to someone under age 21 that they lost their S-Cards (S for sobriety, naturally) prematurely c) understand that a wine glass at dinner is to them as self-spiked Solo Cup at a party is to most teenagers. However, this message is intended for adults who: a) have convinced themselves that, until 21, they thought wine was mommy and daddy’s special grape juice b) think that this article is cry for help or a call to attention c) now want to join a group of suburban vigilantes who ninja their way into every weekend party, smacking each red cup to the carpeted, basement floor. It is time that adults understand a few points: your students, your sons and daughters, your teens deserve the same respect you demand from them. Encourage them to find a way to amuse themselves without intoxication, sure, but know that dangling alcohol high overhead is more futile than preaching an abstinence only viewpoint on sex. We teenagers ultimately snatch down both. Both can also wreak utter destruction of young lives when not only the government and police but also parents have criminalized them.
This article is neither a plea to parents to open their basements for weekend raves nor a request to the school administration to increase our alcohol awareness meetings, of which we have quite enough already. It does show, however, the incongruity of opinion concerning one of the key social lubricants for teens when nationally 62% of high school seniors reported having had a drink in the past month (according to the CDC survey). Alcoholic beverages, a part of the human experience since 10,000 BC, will NEVER go out of style entirely in the youth population as long as those over the magic twenty one continue to use and abuse. By the way, while about 20% of female high school seniors binge drink 3 times a month, 24% in the 18-24 age bracket do. So when we hear, “shots, shots, shots, shots, everybodyyyy!” blare over the radio, whether we are students, teachers, or parents, let’s simply respond with lmfao-ing. Because alcohol will live on in American culture as surely as bad club music. So let’s make the resolution not to be dumb to all of it. A resolution to knock back the hard truth, the malt reality, the bitter certainty that those under 21 see the clock strike 5 PM just as clearly as their “adult” counterparts.
Oh, and one more thing dudes...
DON’T DRINK AND DRIVE.