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Posted at 12:17 PM ET, 11/30/2009

Telling teens not to drink isn't enough: One story

By Valerie Strauss

It was a typical high school party in Montgomery County: Dozens of teenagers got together to have fun, and as always seems to happen, kids started to drink. In fact, most of them did, and a decent number got good and drunk. Some were doing shots, including one girl who who wound up on the floor, so incoherent that other kids began to worry about her condition.

A boy, one of the few teens who had not been drinking, realized the girl needed help. He and some other kids put her in the backseat of a car, and the boy, afraid to call 911 and expose his friends to possible arrest for underage drinking, called his parents for help.

They instantly gave him first aid advice, found the closest hospital and told him to drive the girl there. They also called the hospital to ask whether the girl’s friends who had been drinking could enter the emergency room without fear of being arrested. The answer was no; there was no guarantee.

So the sober boy, the kid who was responsible enough not to drink and who was smart enough to get help for this girl, took her in, and, may have saved her life. He also contacted the girl’s parents, who showed up at the hospital, grateful to the boy who had kept his wits about him.

The only reason the sober boy knew what to do is because he is responsible and actually talks to his parents. They have discussed what to do in this situation. The parents, instead of simply telling their kid not to drink, explained how to get help when necessary.

That is a lesson that bears repeating, because simply telling kids not to drink is not enough. I’ve looked at rules for parties that some schools have given to parents and that are posted on parenting Web sites, and the ones I saw did not advise parents to tell their kids to call 911 if they or someone they are with gets in trouble.

Some colleges and universities have wised up and are teaching students how to recognize the signs of alcohol poisoning and what to do. But frankly, that’s too late: This information should be taught before high school.

Another thing I wondered was this: Why should kids who want to help another in this kind of situation have to worry about legal trouble when a life may be at stake?

A few years ago in Loudoun County, some kids who were drunk left a friend in a park because they were afraid to get him help--and the boy died, according to Kurt Erickson, president of the Washington Region Alcohol Program, sponsored by Geico, Inc.

That prompted some members of the Virginia legislature to sponsor legislation for a “good Samaritan” law that would essentially let underage drinkers “right a wrong” by helping out another underage drinker without fear of serious penalty. The bill has never passed.

Erickson said that Maryland doesn’t have a “good Samaritan” law either, but the real problem in the greater Washington area is the District.

In the nation’s capital, underage drinking is not a criminal offense, per a 2004 District Superior Court ruling. Unfortunately, the Metropolitan Police Department doesn’t have the ability to pursue civil penalties, so, Erickson said, kids from all over the region come to drink in the District.

“It’s a virtual playground for underage drinking,” he said.

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By Valerie Strauss  | November 30, 2009; 12:17 PM ET
Tags:  teen drinking, underage drinking  
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When my nephew was a freshman in college, he drank too much at a party and his friends took him to the college infirmary. Because it was a first offense, he only got a warning, and the college had a policy of not punishing the students who helped a friend. But there also was a policy that students could stay out all night with no penalty.

In other words, if his friends had been bothered by the possibility of getting him in trouble, and less knowledgeable about alcohol, they could have dumped him on a park bench to "sleep it off," possibly with fatal results. Sounds like a recipe for dead students to me.

By the way, my nephew's reaction to the situation was, "It won't happen again. Now I have an excuse not to drink if I don't want to--I already got in trouble once and can't risk getting caught again."

Posted by: opinionatedreader | December 2, 2009 9:56 AM | Report abuse

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