Friday, April 1, 2005
We have heard the news stories in recent weeks about teenage drinking in Boston suburbs. In Belmont, a dozen students showed up intoxicated at the high school's Luau Dance. Several were taken to the hospital to be treated for alcohol poisoning and ultimately faced suspension or expulsion. In Westwood, school officials have announced that all students will be required to take a breathalyzer test upon arriving at upcoming dances, including the May prom for juniors and seniors. High school students are clearly experimenting and indulging in alcohol, and this includes teens in Carlisle and Concord.
Drinking right under their noses
"We're no worse off than anyone else, but probably not a whole lot better," says Arthur Dulong, principal at Concord-Carlisle High School. In recent years, school dances at CCHS were banned because of drinking and violent behavior. The good news is that this year, dances have been slowly re-introduced and no incidents of intoxication have been reported. Although police officers on duty at CCHS school dances always have a portable breathalyzer device available, Dulong says it is only utilized when intoxication is suspected, not as a requirement for admission to the dances. The bad news is that drinking still continues outside of school, and parents need to be aware of a problem that is often occurring right under their noses.
"Kids are having partiesthe most extreme types include binge drinking, shots, drugs, and lots of sex," says Kelli Kirshstein, Intervention Prevention Counselor at CCHS. "Not all kids will go that far, but research shows that if your child's friendship group is engaging in these behaviors, your kid will, too."
Where are they holding these illicit parties? Some teens throw parties at home when their unsuspecting parents are out of town; parties that can grow out of control as word spreads like wildfire via cell phones and the Internet. Others have parties that include drinking at houses where parents happen to be present, but are unaware of what is going on in basements or game rooms. "Typically, this happens in larger homes, when the parents claim to be supervising, but believe it would be too intrusive to enter the party," says Kirshstein.
Even so, parents need to understand that they are ultimately responsible for what goes on under their roofs, says Lieutenant John Sullivan of the Carlisle Police Department. If teens are injured as a result of alcohol consumed at a house party, parents may be subject to civil suits. "There can be a charge of being the keeper of a disorderly house," says Sullivan. Whether parents are out of town or not, the argument can be made that they are responsible for their children's actions until they reach a certain age, he added.
Although not all high school students drink, Kirshstein says statistics show that by the end of senior year, approximately 80% of all teens will have experimented with alcohol. Just under half of the students in the high school will also have tried marijuana, although only a small number of those will become regular users, she says.
So what are the trouble signs parents should be looking for in their teens, changes that might indicate a serious problem beyond simple alcohol or drug experimentation? Danger signs include "flagging grades, a lack of interest in doing things they used to enjoy, a change in friends, dressing in a more grubby manner and becoming more ornery than usual with parents," Kirshstein says.
If teens are caught drinking, drunk, or having a party at the house while parents are away, parents must respond firmly, she adds. Whenever possible, the punishment should fit the crime, featuring consequences that are linked to the problem. "Screaming, yelling, and too much weeping and gnashing of teeth isn't good. A little is okay," she says. Limiting privileges (like use of the computer and phone) and freedom when rules and trust have been shattered is an appropriate response, with many parents choosing to ground their teens (allowing them to leave the house only for school, sports and work during a specified period of time that varies according to severity of the transgression). Even so, "I like to see parents let their children buy back privileges for good behavior. For example, allowing friends over to the house, but with close supervision," says Kirshstein.
Supervision applies to all teen gatherings, Kirshstein stresses. "The idea of absolute privacy is an odd cultural artifact. Not that teens can't have any privacy, but it's better that there's at least some supervision," she says. Intermittent check-ups either at a home party or to make sure they are where they are supposed to be is the most effective, she says, adding, "Don't be on any predictable schedule. Surprise them."
As for the upcoming dance season, Dulong says there have been no incidents of drunken behavior at the proms since he arrived at CCHS, and he is confident this will continue. The greatest risk during prom season however, is the dreaded "after-party", says Kirshstein. "These parties are usually unsupervised, often at hotels. It's expected that students will drink and let loose."
Police officers are aware of this trend, says Sullivan. "We step it up a little more during prom season by adding another officer on duty," he says.
Parents are not alone
Clearly, the job of raising safe, healthy teens can be a daunting one. But it is comforting for parents to know they are not alone. In fact, Dulong and Kirshstein agree that one of the greatest resources available to parents of teenagers is simply: other parents.
"A lot of parents are talking to each other [about this subject]," says Dulong, who points out that strong parental involvement may help Concord and Carlisle deal more effectively with the problem of teen drinking than other communities. "They're talking to one another about the availability and prevalence of alcohol and the role it plays in social events."
"All parents are struggling and everyone is feeling the same way. Parenting is hard, and it's particularly difficult with teenagers today," Kirshstein stresses. But parents can ease the burden by connecting and supporting one another.
Kirshstein herself, in the dual role of School Adjustment Counselor and Intervention Prevention Counselor, is another valuable resource for parents, whether they have just begun to suspect their child is experimenting with alcohol or drugs, or find themselves in the difficult position of needing a referral for professional help or rehabilitation.
"Parents should feel free to call me whenever they feel they could use the support," Kirshstein says. (Kelli Kirshstein can be reached in the high school guidance office at 1-978-341-2490, x7108 or x7109).
© 2005 The Carlisle Mosquito