My son is 13 and I'm pretty confident I can state he doesn't care for me a lot of the time. I am also fairly sure it's not going to get any better as he continues through the teen-age years, both from my own experience and from listening to friends and family of teens.
I remember how angry I would become at my folks when they prevented me from hanging out with wild friends (who are now either chronic alcoholics or dead) and how I swore to myself I'd let my children do what they wanted. I'm one of the lucky ones - I had parents so strict I didn't start drinking and driving until I was 18. Unfortunately I made up for lost time by almost killing myself and others in two drunken driving crashes. I wasn't arrested because my aunt was dating the police officer. This was almost 20 years ago and wasn't considered unusual at the time.
Fortunately, Juneau has made some progress concerning minor consuming. Science shows us how alcohol damages the teen-age developing brain and other organs in ways adults aren't affected. Unfortunately we still have a long way to go. Over the past decade Juneau has lost one youth per year to underage drinking. Last year we lost three. Why did the number triple? Because we, as a community, are not taking care of our own. Do we call 911 when we see teens hanging out on the corner after curfew? Did you even know Juneau has a curfew? Do we call parents of the friends whom our kids claim they are spending the night with to make sure this a fact? Just as important, do we check out the parents of the friends to ensure they have a "safe house." Do you really want your child at a home where the adults feel it's all right for teens to drink as long as there is a grown-up around? What if it's your child that dies from alcohol poisoning in the back room or chokes to death on vomit in a locked bathroom?
The tragic car crash, which occurred in Anchorage at 4 a.m. on Monday was senseless and took the lives of four young people. These kinds of nightmares occur when we, as a community, don't act in a responsible manner. Instead, it is all too easy and has, to an extent, become politically correct to try to be friends with our teens. Spare me the theory about how adults can be friends and parents at the same time - because chances are it's your kid who's drinking beer in the back seat of some car up Eaglecrest. They need boundaries, not a bottle opener.
Our teens have enough issues with their friends and peer pressure. They have to know where their parents stand on alcohol and other drug abuse. If it's not a strong stance then our youth will put their own fences up - and they might not be high enough to save them.
Be clear: Underage drinking is NOT acceptable, it's NOT a "Rite of Passage" and "they are going to try it anyway" has the same effect as handing them a six pack.
It's up to us, as adults, to know where our children are at night, to quiz their friends, to call the police when there's a suspicious party in the neighborhood. To watch our neighbors' children as well as our own. To know who our kid's teachers are and which ones they connect with the most. To feel comfortable letting the manager know there are underage minors hanging around a liquor store and drop-kick any of our buddies who give liquor to minors.
None of us wants to be the one to get that knock on the door in the middle of the night by a police officer. But at the rate our town is going, more of us will be - and what is to prevent it from being you? Please, talk to your children about alcohol abuse and take action as a responsible adult. You'll be doing all of us a big favor.
Cindy Cashen is a volunteer in the Juneau chapter of Mothers Against Drunk Driving.
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