High school drinking still strikes a chord

Posted8/17/2014 5:01 AM

I'm not so old that I can't recall going to an unsupervised high school party or two at which drinking was going on. Let me rephrase that: I don't recall any unsupervised parties at which alcohol wasn't served. That was the point of such events.

I'd also be hard-pressed to tell you there was one solitary person who wasn't drinking. If there was, he or she did so quietly, and certainly without any proseltyzing about the "bad choices" we were making. Such a soul, I can guarantee you, would have been pummeled to a pulp.


Another story from my childhood. After our junior high school basketball team pulled off a dramatic victory, our star center said in the locker room, "I'll have something to drink to tonight!" About that same time, I recall our gym teacher giving a tacit OK to our ninth-grade carousing with an I-know-what-you-guys-are-up-to-at-so-and-so's-house comment.

I pass along these stories to illustrate how much the world has changed since the 1960s (yes, I'm that old) while staying precisely the same. Kids have and will continue to experiment with alcohol. Some parents will continue to be passive, maybe active, enablers.

Here's the big difference today: People more than ever view underage drinking as a menace, recognize it as one of the most common ways for teens to die. Schools in general, and those who oversee athletics in particular, show zero tolerance for kids using alcohol. I would be amazed to hear of a teacher today even remotely condoning underage drinking in a public fashion. So when someone suggests that educators are too tough on teen drinking, people are quick to defend them.

We saw a great example of that launched by a story that a contingent of parents planned to show up at the Glenbard High School District 87 board meeting to protest how the athletic code was being enforced at Glenbard West, where about 30 student athletes were suspended for attending an unsupervised drinking party. Police broke it up, arrested only the host, but turned over the attendees' names to the school, which did its own investigation to ferret out all the participants.

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The objections to these tactics went something like this: There's no proof my kid was drinking. It's not fair that the kids who stuck around, as the cops directed, landed in trouble, but those who bolted the party escaped punishment. Why are the cops in cahoots with the school district?

Then a funny thing happened: At the Monday night school board meeting, many of the anticipated objections were made, but others showed up to laud the school administration for not backing down, including a Glenbard West volleyball player who called out three teammates for getting suspended and hurting the team.

But a former West student said the tough athletic code stopped him from hanging out with his peers and prevented him from attending parties as a non-drinking participant to "defuse the potentially dangerous situations that often arise as a result of binge drinking."

That's a noble goal, but see my earlier remarks on getting pummeled. More to the point, experts who know far better than I pointed out in one of our follow-up stories that's the wrong environment to try to deliver an anti-drinking message.

The public at large has chimed in, too. There were 192 comments on our first story as of Friday. It's tough to make sweeping characterizations, but one typified a strong sentiment: Stop being their friends and be their parents.


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