Thursday, July 30, 2009

NEWSFLASH: College Kids Like To Drink

North Dakota State University is in the midst of rolling out its latest effort to combat a problem that plagues the school, oh, pretty much once a year judging by the clockwork-efficiency with which the Forum publishes breathless articles about it.

Yes, it's handwringing-about-binge-drinking season again. It seems college kids have a high prediliction for getting drunk and NDSU is working feverishly to reverse that. Good luck. College kids are going to drink no matter what. If the campus is dry they'll drink in their dorms and the greek houses. If it isn't, they'll drink in the yards in front of the dorms and greek houses.

The university is planning an all-out educational blitz to inform students about the dangers of alcohol overindulgence. The problem with this is that students already know what can happen. That overconsumption of alcohol can cause problems mild (hangovers) and severe (kidney and liver damage, death) is something every kid knows. But it doesn't stop them from drinking. Why not? Well, does it stop you? Raise you hand if you've never done the lampshade dance before going to St. John's Church of the Porcelein Altar. Put your hand down, you liar.

Here's another thing every kid knows: alcohol is forbidden fruit. Kids who are 18 today grew up watching their parents enjoy beers at the lake or cocktails with friends. Even if their own parents were teetotalers, they undoubtedly had friends who weren't. In other words, kids grow up around alcohol but aren't allowed to touch it. It's bad, we tell them. You better not touch this stuff or I'll kill you. If you ever come home drunk I'll kick you out of the house. Now go get me a beer. If there's a better example of 'do as I say not as I do' than alcohol, I haven't seen it. It's no wonder kids want to go out and get drunk as soon as possible. It's a rebellious act, and if there's anything teenagers love more than stores that blast crappy music on eleven and forming cliques, it's rebelling.

I'm not advocating giving your kid a Jack and Coke when you sit down to watch Spongebob together. But if your kid asks you what you're drinking, tell them what it is. Not that "it's a grown up drink" crap. Tell them it's alcohol. When she wants to know why she can't have one, don't say it's because she won't like it (she won't) or because only grownups get to have those kinds of drinks. That's going to come back to haunt you when she turns 15 and (like all 15-year-olds) thinks she is a grownup. Don't tell her alcohol is dangerous and try to scare her with stories about drunk drivers and power hours gone wrong. She'll give you a look that says, I wonder, are you an alcoholic or just a hypocrite.

Tell her alcohol is something she has to learn to enjoy responsibly. Explain to her that's it's illegal for her to drink beacuse of the effects that alchol have on the developing bodies of children. Tell her how drinking can be a fun way to celebrate, but that being drunk has drawbacks, then explain them.

In other words, talk to your kids about alcohol in a way they can understand. Remove the mystique. When they're older, this won't keep them from drinking. Peer pressure and the sense of invulnerability all teens have are way too powerful for you, a mere mortal, to overcome. But they won't go to their first kegger thinking that moment is the one in which they became adults.

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