I read the statistics over and over, having a hard time getting my arms around the numbers that sat in front of me. A new study sanctioned by the American Medical Association has found that one-third of a certain western industrialized nation’s parents voluntarily provide their kids and their kids’ friends with the world’s deadliest drug. Twenty-four percent of these parents sit with their kids and do the drug together. The nation, of course, is America; the drug, of course, is alcohol, a poison that kills more teens than all of the other drugs combined.
As I sat and stared at these numbers, a picture of my family’s annual holiday party popped into my head. Of the thirty parents that typically attend, ten might be willing to poison my son. Seven might sit and do this neuro-toxin with my kid, allowing him to believe that this is a “cool” thing to do. But, I thought, which of these friend-parents might be doing this? And how do I approach this issue with good people who might believe that bad poisons are OK for teens since, “it’s just a few beers,” or “I’m teaching them how to drink”?
"The rationalization among parents is teens are going to do it anyway, let them do it under my supervision," says Pat Hines, executive director of Safe Moves, a Los Angeles nonprofit program on traffic safety education that recently developed a program for teens on drinking and driving. "Parents think they can control it. I think that's a fallacy. [Drinking] becomes almost acceptable when a parent establishes those parameters."
Parents often do not understand the devastation of underage drinking, Hill says. The research is overwhelmingly clear: underage drinking is almost always involved in teen crime, violence, sexual activity, and accidents. Underage drinking can lead to addiction, affect school performance, and damage developing brains. For kids, alcohol is a deadly neuro-toxic drug that whacks soft, developing teen brains in a much more powerful fashion than it impacts adult gray matter. As with pregnant women, no one has yet found a “safe” level of minimal exposure that does not cause measurable brain damage in teens.
"A child who begins to drink before the legal drinking age may end up having a significant problem with reasoning and memory because of their alcohol use," says Hill. "That kid is not going to do as well in school. Parents are not as aware [of the consequences] as they should be."
So what to do? Well, you might want to hang out a bit in Hudson, Ohio, with The Hudson Parent Partnership, a group of incredibly courageous and wise parents that I just met. They were neighbors in this beautiful, well-heeled small town who were shocked to literally bump into each other at their kid’s drug rehab centers. Shocked because, just like in most of our towns, we bury these dirty little secrets when our kids get involved with drugs (yes, alcohol is a drug). They are courageous, since rather than doing what I likely would have done (and walked away in shame), these folks stood up together and formed a committee that essentially said, “No more secrecy. It’s time that we stuck these unpopular truths in everybody’s faces. Maybe we can save a few kids.”
They are wise because they realized that it is not nearly enough to only educate kids about drugs, but that it’s critical to get us adults-in-denial to rip off our blinders about this epidemic that threatens our kids—each and every one of them: yours, mine and everyone’s.
This is an epidemic of our own creation. We parents are so terribly complicit in this insanity because alcohol is our drug of choice, and kids, like most scientists, believe that booze is at least as harmful to teens as is weed. So when we permit our kids to drink, we’re essentially telling them that other drugs are OK as well. Non-alcohol drugs are mostly viewed by adults as suspect, communist, unsavory sorts of things. But alcohol is seen as pure-blood, good-old-boy American. It is football, and baseball, and rites of passage, and all things good—or so we like to believe. Unfortunately, the science says otherwise.
Our salvation is to find the courage and wisdom of these Hudson parents, and form action committees as they have done to run seminars and awareness programs to re-educate us adults who smugly sleep so well at night, arrogantly assuming that our own kids will never cause us to bump into our neighbors at the local rehab. If we other parents are willing to work hard, join committees and talk frankly with each other about these issues, maybe a few more of us can be lucky enough to only bump into each other at the holiday party.
Official Website and Parent-Teen Resource
Doctor Mike Bradley