Kelly & Jonathan From Miles To Go Drug Prevention Education
Wish You A Happy And Safe Holiday Party Season
Are You Serving Alcohol To My Kid During The Holidays?
Last Christmas an old friend and fellow mom called me because she was shocked to find out that another mom was serving alcohol to all the 8th and 9th graders from her school. This other mom obviously subscribed to the theory that kids can safely drink if they confine their drinking to someone’s home. My friend’s daughter then added her perspective, saying “Mom, all the kids drink–it’s really no big deal!” Now doubting her sanity, my friend phoned me to ask, “Kelly, do all the kids drink? Is it really no big deal, and am I the only mom who isn’t letting this happen? Have I become the old, uncool mom?”
Listening to my friend’s dilemma on the other end of the phone, I was saddened. After 15 years of talking to parents about keeping their kids safe, I realized that one of my oldest friends was not benefitting from our parent lectures because she was on the other side of the country and never had the opportunity to attend. This open letter is not just to our friend Ann, but also to everyone who has not been able to attend our lectures, view our webinars, or read our emails and drug fact updates.
You are NOT the only mom who doesn’t want her child to drink, and you are certainly not alone! Here are a few thoughts for you, but this is only the beginning of this conversation. We will continue to talk about this in upcoming parent meetings and online book discussions scheduled for early 2011. Our goal will be to find out what other parents and communities are doing to battle the problem of adults providing alcohol to minors.
First: I’m reprinting a passage from our new book “Not All Kids Do Drugs” for you. (Find it at the end of the letter.) It is such an important part of our presentation that we began our book with this subject. (Shameless plug: Anyone who would like to buy a copy of the book, click here: Milestogodrugeducation.com).
Second: There are social host laws popping up all over the country specifically designed to stop parents from serving to minors. California has no state criminal law on social host liability, but many cities and counties do have local ordinances. Find out what your local statutes are, and if there are currently no laws in place, find out why not.
Social Host Liability defined: Social host laws are set up as criminal or civil actions against people who serve alcohol or drugs to their guests, especially if those guests are minors. Adults can be held responsible if this occurs on their property, regardless of who furnishes the alcohol. These laws vary depending on your city or state, and can include misdemeanor charges as well as fines and possible jail time.
MADD: Simplifies this explanation and provides a brochure: http://www.madd.org/underage-drinking/social-host/
NIAAA: Underage Drinking: Prohibitions Against Hosting Underage Drinking Parties
Model Programs: Excellent website from San Diego County Alcohol Policy Panel about Social Host liability and explanations http://socialhost.org/Default.htm
Third: What do you do if someone is hosting these parties? (A more extensive list is in Part 2 of our book)
1: Tell your child why these parties are off limits. You are allowed to say, “No.” You are their parent, not their friend.
2: Saying, “No” to dangerous activities begins as a pattern in preschool, not when they are in high school. Practice early.
3: Know your kids’ friends and their friends’ parents – this also begins early and lasts a life time.
4: Host the parties at your house. Keep them small and lock the bar.
5: Call ahead and ask the parents hosting the event for details about the party.
6: Alert other parents about these unsafe environments. Don’t assume they know what’s going on and are OK with kids drinking—they may not be aware of the danger these parties pose.
Not All Kids Do Drugs
Answering The Big Questions
“All kids are going to do drugs,
so why don’t we teach them how to use safely?”
We might as well start with this common parental assumption—all kids will eventually try drugs, especially alcohol. Since this is our starting point, it’s also where we’ll make our first stand:
NOT ALL KIDS DO DRUGS!!
We can’t tell you how often a parent in one of our presentations announces that, “All kids are going to do drugs.” Without fail, at least a couple of parents who stayed silent in the face of this all-knowing pronouncement approach us after the event ends and say, “I’ve never done a drug in my life,” or, “I’ve never had a drink or smoked a cigarette. Does that mean I can’t teach my kid about this subject?”
In our drug abuse prevention presentations for parents, we’ve always encouraged schools and parents to support the nonusers—because the users have the loudest voice and will drown out the voice of the nonusers. We are astonished that, despite all we know about the costs associated with teen drug use and adult drug abuse, large segments of our society still perceive users as the cool group. The party people are seen as popular and cool, and they reinforce this image with a language filled with terms nonusers might not understand. This special slang acts to bring the users together and exclude others. They also have an easy time finding like-minded others—they just go to a party, look around–and voila–instant peer group. The most vocal members of the party group, the ones that lord their drug knowledge over less exposed members of their class or school, are a special breed. We refer to them as drug bullies. Nonusers tend to be scattered among the chess players, the musicians, the athletes, the rock climbers, the actors. They don’t know each other, and they have a lot of difficulty identifying each other. These nonusers need encouragement to continue their conscious choice, and we need to actively encourage healthy alternatives to drug use.
A major problem, though, is that a few of these drug bullies don’t change when they reach adult age. The parent who stands up and says, “All kids are going to use,” may well be nothing more than an adult drug bully. The parent that doesn’t stand up and insist, “No, they aren’t,” is still being bullied and may still to this day feel uncool about their lack of drug experience. They have told us repeatedly that they don’t feel they have enough knowledge to speak up about the subject because they are not part of the supposed “in-crowd.” They are the parents who don’t get invited to, or choose not to attend, the parties where binge drinking is happening. They also don’t attend parties where marijuana is smoked and everyone pretends it’s cool as long as their kids aren’t around to see it.
We’ve been teaching drug abuse prevention education in schools for a long time, and one of the things we are sure of is that not all kids do drugs. We’ve had many students get in touch with us years after they saw our program to tell us they still haven’t used drugs. Many are now married and starting families and careers of their own, and they did it without falling prey to the silly notion that all kids are supposed to use drugs as a part of growing up.
Of course, it would be foolish for us to think that out of the 10,000 kids we teach each year not one would drink or get high—far from it. We have also heard from some of those who did choose to drink or use drugs. Several of them told us that they stopped before they got into serious trouble; several others went into rehab sooner than they normally would have because of their knowledge that help was available. Many had friends in trouble and were able to help them find their way out of a bad situation. Unfortunately, there are some students we are no longer able to hear from, but that we hear of—they are the ones that didn’t make it out the other side of the decision to use. They are the ones who died.
Let’s Look At A Few Common Variations Of The Original Question:
1. “All kids will eventually use, so why not let them do it in the safety of our home?”
First, it is impossible to monitor a group of kids who are drinking and using drugs in your home unless you are a trained drug specialist or an ER doctor with all the meds and tools you’ll need in your bathroom medicine chest. If you think you will stop them from drinking and driving by taking away their car keys, we can tell you from experience that some of the kids are smarter than you are—they bring a second set of keys. If drunks want to drive, they will drive. Before you have your “safe” party, ask yourself these questions: “Can I tell the difference between a drunken, passed out teenager and a teenager who is in a drug-induced or alcoholic coma?” “How do I know if that teenager has alcohol poisoning?” “Do I know the complete health and addiction history of these people and their families?” “Do I know what other drugs and medications they may have used tonight?” If you don’t feel 100% confident about everything mentioned above, then you are not capable of taking care of a group of teen drug and alcohol users.
Actually, if you think about it, even if you are confident about all of the above, you are still not capable of taking care of a group of using teens—there are just too many variables to deal with effectively. With so many balls in the air at the same time, even a pro can miss something important.
A tragic story we heard while back east illustrates this point exactly. Some parents felt confident they could manage the mayhem associated with a teen drinking party, so they allowed the party to take place at their home. As expected, some of the teen attendees got really drunk, and a few even ended the evening getting sick all over themselves, but hey, that’s what it’s all about, right? Unfortunately, nobody thought to monitor the little sister of the teen host and the daughter of the parents allowing the party. She, in her effort to emulate the behaviors of the teens she so much wanted to be like, drank alcohol also. When she got drunk enough to feel ill, she went upstairs and lay down on her bed, where she proceeded to lapse into a coma.
We weren’t able to follow this story to its conclusion, but it does beg the question: Are you confident that these parents would act in a timely and responsible fashion if your child was the one passed out and possibly lapsing into a coma? They would certainly be aware that their participation in and sponsorship of illegal teen drinking would be frowned upon by the very authorities they would be calling. They may well fail to make the call in an effort to avoid the legal consequences that await them if they do. Their hesitancy may well cost your son or daughter their life.