Think Before You Let Them Drink

“Think before you let them drink” is the slogan of a North Shore campaign targeted at parents this high school graduation season.

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As our children become young adults we face difficult choices – especially with regards to alcohol. I was reminded of this minefield recently when the CBC noon hour show BC Almanac hosted a call-in show about parents providing alcohol to their children. The experts on the show came equipped with some stark facts:

  • Recent national studies showed that 85% of youth aged 15 to 24 were drinking in excess of safe drinking guidelines.
  • Youth who drink are more likely to break the law, get into trouble at home, with peers and at school.
  • Underage drinking can also lead to long-term addiction. 40% of alcoholics began drinking before the age of 15 while only 10% began drinking at age 21 or after.
  • Supplying alcohol to a minor carries a fine not less than $500.

And yet, many parents called into the show to reveal that they still find comfort in having an open and honest relationship with their children and providing them a safe venue to consume alcohol with friends. This is an approach that seems responsible and obviously (from the show) one that many parents are choosing.

For me the critical unknown in this approach is what happens once that alcohol leaves your hands. What other substances are clandestinely being added to the mix? What if your rules and boundaries aren’t enforced by the parents of your child’s peer group? What happens when it all goes wrong? This isn’t a hypothetical situation. It happened in 2008 to 16 year old Shannon Raymond from Maple Ridge. That night Shannon drank alcohol and took an ecstasy pill before arriving at a friend’s house party. She passed out and was left unconscious overnight before her friend’s mother finally called an ambulance at 6 a.m. She was dead when paramedics arrived.

In the words of Danielle’s sister (who also spoke on BC Almanac),

To parents, I want them to remember Shannon’s story…so they don’t end up being the “cool” parent as I like to refer to them. Like the ones that Shannon’s friends had. It’s a shame because my mom had been over to all of their houses and they all presented themselves like a white picket fence and a yellow house with a dog sort of family and we found out after Shannon died that a lot of these houses regularly had massive drinking parties and we didn’t know about them and I think parents really need to think twice. As soon as that alcohol leaves your hands, you don’t know. As much as you like to think you have rules – you don’t have any control of that alcohol once it leaves your hands and into the hands of a child. Whether they like to hear it or not they are still children and they don’t have experience drinking… and when they’re young they’re going to experiment and push boundaries and sometimes it ends in death. Like in my sister’s case.

To be honest I still struggle as a parent with what the right approach is. All I know is that these words, born of personal experience, scare the heck out of me.

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