Thursday, June 14, 2012

Summertime or Party time?

The summer months are upon us, and with them comes the opportunity to enjoy the great outdoors.  Summer also brings the close of school, and hours of relative freedom for many teens.  With increased freedom and the allure of beaches, gravel pits, and secluded fields there are bound to be underage parties where alcohol is involved.

First, let me establish why I think underage drinking is risky.  Most humans under age 24 do not yet have adult brains.  The pre-frontal cortex undergoes growth up until this time (and even later in some). Young people between puberty and about age 24 have a higher risk tolerance if there is a possibility of reward (especially for SOCIAL rewards).  In other words, they will do stupid stuff if they think success will get them attention, sex, or other rewards.  When you introduce alcohol into an already risk tolerant individual, you can get some really scary stunts.  (See our November 2011 post.)  Some of these lead to injuries, some to risky sexual behavior and long term social and emotional consequences. The other factor here is that there is evidence that when these developing brains are repeatedly exposed to alcohol or other mind altering drugs, the brains actually develop additional chemoreceptors for alcohol or nicotine or cannabinoids.  This leads to a high risk for dependency as an adult.  Their young livers also process alcohol and other compounds less efficiently than do fully adult bodies.  Bottom line, if you want to reduce the risk of short-term and long-term injury to your children, don't endorse their use of alcohol while they are young.

Most underage drinkers imbibe in groups. According to our local law enforcement officials we have made great strides in recent years in reducing the number of big parties (those with more than 100 kids at them).  This is great, but we still have a long way to go to get the number of youth under 21 who are drinking (and drinking heavily) down.  One way to address this is to discourage even the smaller parties from happening.

The best way to discourage underage drinking is through thoughtful and engaged dialogue between parents and teens.  This includes expressing a sincere desire that your kids not drink at all while they are underage.  (Simply forbidding any behavior without dialogue isn't effective.  Our children need to understand that we care about them and think that underage drinking, not just drinking and driving, is not safe.)

When this method doesn't work, or when we get wind of a planned gathering at another family's property, you can call them and tell them what you heard.  If you find that this would be very awkward for you to do, perhaps a discussion with the parents of your children's close friends when you don't have bad news to break might be in order.  Before it ever becomes an issue, try asking them what they would like you to do if you were to hear about a party at their house or at their camp, and share what you would like them to do if the same were to be true for a party at your property.

If you don't know the other parents, or can't get in touch with them, please consider calling the regional emergency dispatch centers and reporting the potential party.  The earlier you can report it, the more likely that law enforcement can break it up without having to summons anyone.  Ideally, the officers can simply have a conversation BEFORE the party starts, so that it can be avoided all together.  Also, reports to the Knox or Waldo County dispatch centers can be anonymous.  The dispatcher may ask you for your name automatically, but you can leave a report without leaving your name.  (Just state that you would not like to give your name.)  No one—especially local law enforcement—wants to have to make a call about an accident or a bust at a party to parents. They would much rather get word early and be able to keep things from escalating to the point of having to write summons or even worse deal with an accident.

We as community members need to get more involved to prevent young people from habitually using alcohol.  Taking the step of talking to your children, talking to their friends' parents, and reporting parties you get wind of are some of the ways you can help.

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