On Friday, four drunk teenagers were taken to area hospitals during a pep rally at Chatham High School. Additionally, school staff had trouble controlling the behavior of some groups of students at the event thus forcing the pep rally to end early.
This incident serves as an important reminder to our schools, parents and the entire community that underage drinking and is a reality that requires constant attention.
Students who claim that underage drinking happens everywhere are backed up by statistics. The Students Against Destructive Decisions (SADD) website said that according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), 37 percent of students have consumed "more than just a few sips" of alcohol by the eighth grade. That number jumps up to 72 percent by the end of high school.
Underage drug use is also a widespread issue. One in five high school seniors is a regular smoker, according to SADD, and 44 percent of high school seniors have tried cigarettes.
According to SADD's most recent information, other illicit drug use among Americans between ages 12 and 17 increased from 9.3 percent to 10 percent from 2008 to 2009, reversing a six-year decline.
Over 20 million Americans 12 and older admitted to recent drug use, according to a 2008 study by The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA).
How Does Underage Drinking and Drug Use Affect a Teen's Health and Well-Being?
The Centers for Disease Control tells us:
"Youth who drink alcohol are more likely to experience [the following]:
- School problems, such as higher absence and poor or failing grades.
- Social problems, such as fighting and lack of participation in youth activities.
- Legal problems, such as arrest for driving or physically hurting someone while drunk.
- Physical problems, such as hangovers or illnesses.
- Unwanted, unplanned, and unprotected sexual activity.
- Disruption of normal growth and sexual development.
- Physical and sexual assault.
- Higher risk for suicide and homicide.
- Alcohol-related car crashes and other unintentional injuries, such as burns, falls, and drowning.
- Memory problems.
- Abuse of other drugs.
- Changes in brain development that may have life-long effects.
- Death from alcohol poisoning."
According to NIDA, almost all drug use, especially prolonged use, can lead to longterm physical and mental consequences. These can vary depending on the type of drug consumed, but can include:
- Increased heart flow and blood pressure,
- Heart and liver disease,
- Decreased dopamine levels in the brain,
- Constructed blood flow,
- Extreme moods including depression or aggression,
- Nerve damage, sometimes exhibiting as symptoms similar to Multiple Sclerosis,
- Memory loss,
- Vomitting and nausea and
- Sudden death.
What Can We Do as Parents?
Then talk to your kids about the risks and dangers involved with drug and alcohol consumption or abuse, and then keep on talking. Keep the lines of communication open and let your kids know that you are there for them. With an open-door policy, teens may be more likely to turn to parents for support when social pressures get tough.
Here is where it gets complicated: Teens and parents see that underage drinking is a reality. To address this, some parents allow their teens to consume alcohol in a controlled and supervised situation in their home in order to teach their teens how to drink responsibly.
Others parents take a harder stance by not allowing their teens to drink since New Jersey law states the legal age to consume alcohol is 21. Parents wonder which is the better option. The problem is how will any of these teens, regardless of their parents' stance at home, respond when presented with unsupervised social situations that involve alcohol.
Parents who host parties in an effort to control what happens are taking a very big risk. Check out the New Jersey Prevention Network - Parents Who Host Lose The Most campaign for more information.
Dealing with the Consequences
There are no easy answers in life but the events that took place at Chatham High on Friday could have been much worse. Seniors are upset that they are being punished as a whole class when only some students (including underclassmen) were involved.
The school has to take a tough stance. Maybe everyone can look at the situation this way: Our actions, even those unintended, affect others. This is something that happens throughout life.
When I was entering my senior year of high school, a friend who was about to begin her senior year at a neighboring high school got into a car with a teen driver who was under the influence. The driver lost control of the car and crashed into a telephone pole. My friend was ejected from the passenger seat and killed.
Yes - the driver should have been and was punished for the wrongdoing but to this day, my friend's family has to live with that heart-wrenching loss. My friend never got to experience her senior year or a life beyond that horrible day.
All kids make mistakes and so do parents, we are human and it is the way we learn in life. As parents, all we can do is educate and support our teens in the hope that each lesson learned is without serious consequences.
Looking for more resources?
Chatham and Madison Parents - We want to hear from you. Are we doing enough as parents to stop or discourage underage drinking? Aside from the current situation at Chatham High and since most are in agreement that underage drinking is stark reality, are our schools handling the situation properly?