Based on statistics from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, 4,358 people under the age of 21 die of alcohol related incidents every year. In 2008 alone, more than 190,000 people under the age of 21 visited an emergency room for alcohol related injuries. We are not immune.
These kinds of statistics have shaped me as a person and an educator. Today, I address a ubiquitous threat to the health and safety of our students and the well being of our community. It is a threat that parents tacitly, perhaps unknowingly, play a role in. As the Head of the School, as an educator, and a concerned adult, I feel called to share my views on the topic of drugs, alcohol and adolescents, as well as on the parents who explicitly or implicitly allow drug and alcohol related parties to take place in or around their homes. I want to avoid a tragedy, especially one that we can all work together to prevent.
Let me be clear, MA is explicit about its stance on drugs and alcohol from an educational perspective, a health and safety perspective, and a discipline perspective. I am talking about those choices that students and families make beyond the school confines, beyond school time, but not beyond the reach of our care and concern as a school, or my care and concern. I can no longer have my integrity and remain silent on this topic. And I enter into this conversation with great humility, the clear understanding of the complexities and challenges of parenthood, and a deep and abiding knowledge of and respect for adolescents.
No one ever asks me, “Is it ok if I let my kid smoke cigarettes?” You’d be a social pariah if you did. And it’s time we started thinking that way about drugs and alcohol. Because of brain science we now know how the adolescent brain responds to drugs and alcohol. And we must accept that because of their effect on the adolescent brain, they have a detrimental physiological, medical, and mental impact. In the same way that we know what smoking does to us, we know what drugs and alcohol are doing to our kids. We know.
Teenagers can wear us down. I understand the reasoning behind wanting your child to learn how to drink at home where it is safe, or the comfort that a parent tries to create by collecting the car keys. Although understandable that parents reach these conclusions, they do not address the real issues at hand when it comes to providing a place for impossible-to-supervise parties, binge drinking, and the use of drugs. Here’s what I want every parent to know:
- Parents need to be really clear with their children and our students about their values and what the consequences will be when rules are broken. Families need to have these conversations frequently. Parents who step away from their authority step away from their responsibilities.
- Making those decisions for your children is your right and responsibility; it is not in your purview to make those decisions for other people’s children. Let’s be clear: drugs and alcohol are illegal. And there are consequences. So when you choose to serve adolescents drugs or alcohol in your home, or to allow their consumption tacitly, you’re making decisions for other people’s children. And that’s not ok.
- Parents have to be clear about their boundaries and hold their children accountable. I encourage parents to call other parents and to ask them if they’re going to be home when a party is happening or to ask if drugs and alcohol are going to be served. Only then you will know the landscape in which you are making your decisions. At some point we have to trust our kids, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be checking in about these things.
- Provide your child with an out. Let them know that they can call you any time to get them out of a uncomfortable situation or a mistake they’ve made or that their friends have made.
- Be your child’s ally. Social pressures are challenging to resist and it can be complicated to remove yourself from these situations. Don’t minimize that for your child. And if you believe that they are unable to make a wise choice, even when they insist that they are, avoid putting them in that situation.
Marin Academy will continue to do what we do best. Provide excellent information through our two-year Human Development program, featured speakers, and the opportunity to practice wise decision making. Continue to be crystal clear about our expectations, rules and consequences. Support parents by providing parent education and by being a strong resource. Thoughtfully review all programs to ensure that we avoid mixed messages or inadvertently place our students in untenable situations. Share compassionately and clearly our best practices and recommendations.
Here is what I hope parents will do. Resist the urge to host these kinds of parties. Call other parents to determine the nature of any social event that you consider sending your child to, and ask the difficult questions. Recognize that your adolescents need your brain and your wisdom even when they compellingly argue that they do not.
Let’s all work together on the most important piece of our partnership: educating your children and our students to make healthy choices in order to become adults who are compassionate and contributing citizens of our world.
Suggested links for further reading:
- Teen Drinking May Cause Irreversible Brain Damage : NPR
- Drinking and Risky Sexual Behavior – Fact Sheets – Resources – Center
for Alcohol Marketing and Youth – Centers and Institutes – Research –
Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health
- Teenage Drinking: Understanding the Dangers and Talking to Your Child