Friday, May 13, 2005
Teen drinking in Carlisle and Concord What every parent should know
How many Concord-Carlisle students have been drunk within the past month? What does a teen mean by "one drink?" What is the most common cover for attending a party with drinking? On Monday, a lineup of experts, including psychologist Kathryn Yamartina, emergency room physician Steven Sbardella, high school principal Art Dulong, Concord police lieutenant Paul Macone, attorney Bill Barrett, and Concord middle school nurse Barb Chase presented their views on the legal, physical, and psychological repercussions of teen drinking. The forum was sponsored by the Concord- Carlisle Parent Initiative and the CCHS Parents Association. It was moderated by Greg Howes of the Alliance for Teen Safety.
Psychologist Kathryn Yamartina shocked many parents in attendance by holding up a twenty-four-ounce Poland Springs bottle and noting kids will fill it with vodka and knock it back in an hour. "The drinking you might have done is not the drinking they do." She points to a super-sized culture. Whereas many parents grew up drinking six-ounce Cokes, sodas today come in twenty-ounce sizes. "Kids are used to eating and drinking large quantities of everything," and as a result, think a water bottle full of vodka is "a drink." In addition, binge drinking before supervised events lets a teen maintain a buzz throughout an evening without further drinking.
Yamarttina cautions parents not to think that because kids are not driving, they are safe drinking. Much of her practice as a teen psychologist deals with the repercussions of drinking, including "sexual activity not meant to happen." Teens report they drink because they feel stressed and overwhelmed, and "they believe it's what everyone is doing." (Principal DuLong observes that when CCHS students were asked to guess what percentage of their friends were drinking, their predictions were routinely higher than actually surveyed.) The normalization of drinking is encouraged by television and movies.
Yamartina offers this advice: "If in the family history there's substance abuse, be prepared to talk to your child about it," as such a history brings "a greater risk for developing a significant drinking problem." She also advises parents to encourage "healthy risk-taking" and to teach kids "how to socialize and have a good time on their own" at an early age without organized activities.
Teen drinkers younger, more often female, drunker
Steven Sbardella lives in Concord and works in a hospital emergency room on the North Shore. He has a son at the high school and another child in middle school. Although he believes "the message is getting out," he has noted some scary trends, including more young middle-school-aged drinkers, and more heavy drinking and risky behavior by girls.
He observes binge drinking has taken off as a means to "get the delayed reaction after passing the door" of an event without alcohol, and that this leads to violent and self-destructive behavior. Over the past two years, there has been a dramatic increase in teen admissions for depression and suicide attempts, often after binge drinking. He notes that 25% of accidents involving alcohol and teens result in a death. He cautions parents to lock up alcohol and prescription pills, as teens often mix the two.
Warning signs to call 911
Sbardella says the typical parent reaction to learning a child has been brought to the emergency room drunk is, "My child doesn't need to be here." There is low awareness that hundreds of teen drinkers die each year from asphyxiation. He cautions against letting a passed-out drinker "sleep it off." In particular, if a drinker is breathing slowly, pausing for more than eight seconds between breaths, cool and clammy, or unable to be awakened, "you need to call 911. You need to go through that embarrassment." An unconscious drinker is in particular danger of aspirating vomit. As to giving food or coffee, the only effect is "the more they eat the more you'll have to clean up" when they vomit. Time is the only factor effective in reducing blood alcohol levels, and "it takes hours and hours to metabolize."
One out of four drunk this month
CCHS Principal Art DuLong recalls that within six months of assuming his position, it became clear — "an awful lot of our high school students were getting in trouble" with drinking. He points to the results of a recent survey of high school students which revealed 23.9% had had five or more drinks in a row within the past 30 days, and 29.9% had attended a party with drinking with a parent's knowledge within the past year.
However, "my perception is the drinking issue is getting better," he concludes. Dulong applauds the parents who speak to each other, share information, and make phone calls before parties "at some embarrassment to you, and great embarrassment to your child." As a result, there have been fewer incidents at social functions and athletic events. "Continue the vigilance," he warns. He also suggests talking to students and modeling good behavior regarding alcohol. "Have sit-down conversations over dinner" and "let them know your expectations."
Do you know where your teen is?
Lieutenant Macone is not sure that drinking is down. He points to the 36.8% of students who report drinking within the past 30 days, "That's a troubling statistic." A CCHS graduate and the parent of CCHS students, both current and former, Macone has viewed the issue from a variety of perspectives.
When the Concord Police call parents after an underaged drinker is caught, routinely the response to, "Do you know where your kid is?" will be, "Staying at a friend's house." Although he admits it is an unpopular stance, he asks parents to consider the risks when allowing a teen to sleep away.
The Concord Police recently opened a "drop a dime" line which can be called anonymously to report parties with alcohol (Note: no spokesperson for the Carlisle Police was reachable this week for comment). If they know in time, the police will call parents and try to head off a problem. Macone defends the policy of searching out participants when a party is broken up. He calls this "a dangerous situation" because drunk, fleeing children are prone to accidents.
The most dangerous thing we do
"Giving a kid a car is one of the most dangerous things we do," says Macone. But, he adds, "it is an incredible piece of leverage for responsible behavior." He urges parents to delay learner's permits or take licenses away when teens violate rules. Adherence to the junior operator's law that restricts teen drivers from transporting their friends is important; the accident rate among 16- to 18-year-olds has "decreased significantly" since this law was passed. Previously, according to Macone, 47% of accidents involved drivers in this age group.
Obviously, parents should refrain from supplying alcohol to minors, but older children also need to be educated. Recent changes to the law mean that "liability lies much greater with parents and providers," with penalties up to one-year imprisonment. The law also has started to hold parents on the premises responsible, even if they were unaware.
Protecting against lawsuits
Bill Barrett, a CCHS graduate and parent who specializes in tort law, asks, "What will happen to you and your assets" if you are found guilty of supplying alcohol to a minor who then sustains or causes injury?
Civil law is in some ways less tough on providers than criminal law. The injured party must prove the host had "control of alcohol" and knew the drinker was intoxicated. "This is a difficult burden to prove" in a party situation, and most suits have been against bars. Also, although an unaware parent may be criminally liable for underaged drinking at his or her home, the civil statutes do not recognize "negligent encouragement" involving visitors. Parents are, however, always responsible for the actions of their own children.
Barrett cautions that jury verdicts can be unpredictable, with some awards topping three million dollars. He suggests everyone check their own insurance because "one million dollars is not enough." In addition, violations of criminal law void homeowners liability insurance, so the negligent parent found guilty in a civil suit may not be covered.
Barrett suggests barring cell phone use in cars. When phone records are subpoenaed for a case, it is not rare to find a driver was chatting when an accident occurred. "This is very damning evidence," he adds. "You will never get the benefit of the doubt" from a jury.
Prescriptions include activities, communication, modeling behavior
Barb Chase points to her own failure to step in when a drinking parent may have been endangering her own kids, and urges parents to "become responsible for your children's peers." She brings experience as a parent and a school nurse to the question of teen drinking. She advises parents to set boundaries, lock the liquor cabinet, and set good examples, as kids "learn from what you do, not what you say." She also advises communicating with other parents, planning activities, and coaching kids on "how to deal with stress, shyness, and boredom without resorting to drinking."
Lieutenant Macone praised the work of community organizations and expressed "appreciation for the many citizens of Concord and Carlisle who join in trying to do something about [teen drinking]." Information is available by contacting the Concord Carlisle Parent Initiative at www.ccpi.info or by e-mailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
© 2005 The Carlisle Mosquito