Ask almost any new college parent what worries them most about depositing their kid in the freshmen dorm and driving away, and the answer will likely be binge-drinking. The images of kids guzzling booze to unconsciousness, party drinks spiked with Roofies, and campus rapes of stone-cold drunken coeds, are seared into our parental brains.
Lots of kids begin drinking while they are still in high school. I know this because I don’t actually live under a rock. I even know people who let their high schoolers host booze-and-weed parties right under their noses ― as if being there and watching bad behavior somehow makes it better. As one mom advised me in junior year, “Don’t ask if the parents will be home. Ask if the parents will be home and sober.”
I also know parents in the U.S. and Europe who regularly pour a glass of wine for their young teens each night with dinner. Nothing wrong with it, they say, it’s a cultural thing. Demystify alcohol and the kids will care less about it, goes one line of parental thinking. Don’t make booze the forbidden fruit, which would only enhance its appeal, these parents say. And my personal favorite as it applies to the college scene: It’s just a rite of passage to get drunk in college; there’s really nothing you can do about it. Besides, everybody does it.
Sorry, I don’t buy it. In fact, I think parents are a big part of the problem and I finally came across a study that proves me right. According to research out of Loyola Marymount University published in August in the journal Psychology of Addictive Behaviors, it’s the parents who are the ones succumbing to peer pressure from other parents to show tolerance, if not outright encouragement, for their teens’ drinking. They want to be seen as cool and as chill as the parents-next-door, so to speak. But here’s a newsflash: Those cool and chill parents? They are not as laid back and permissive as you think.
“We tend to think of peer pressure as something that only young people have to deal with,” said Joseph LaBrie, a professor of psychology at LMU and the lead author of the study, in a press release. “But all of us implicitly feel a need to conform to what we think everyone else is doing. The problem is that, when it comes to health behaviors, we are often wrong in our perceptions of how others are thinking and behaving.”
Here’s the reality: Kids who are given sips of alcohol in middle school are more likely to drink in high school. Those who don’t drink alcohol in high school are less likely to binge drink in college. Take your pick which path you want your kid to take.
And here’s what making a bad choice leads to, according to the National Institutes of Health:
* About 1,825 college students between the ages of 18 and 24 die from alcohol-related unintentional injuries, including motor-vehicle crashes. The number is far less for simply alcohol poisoning, like that matters somehow.
* About 696,000 students between the ages of 18 and 24 are assaulted each year by another student who has been drinking.
* About 97,000 students between the ages of 18 and 24 report experiencing alcohol-related sexual assault or date rape every year.
And the real message is this: No, not everyone is doing it ― even if that’s what it feels like sometimes.
Parents need to parent. Are you really spending $50,000 a year for college so your son can learn how to spend nights with his head over the toilet bowl perfecting his aim? Aren’t you just a little glad that it wasn’t your kid rushed by ambulance from a Long Island party recently when the police found three of the 400 revelers unconscious from drinking? The homeowner parent faces a year in jail if found guilty of the Social Host Law.
And don’t colleges have some role in this as well? How about they start to actually enforce the law instead of playing blind and deaf when it comes to excessive drinking among their students? Do I want my daughter’s university to start acting like a police unit? Maybe I do. Underage drinking is still illegal, last I checked. And there’s a reason for that: Most kids can’t handle it. Is a drunk college kid getting behind the wheel of a car and plowing down pedestrians really all that much different from the one who brings a weapon on campus? The end result is the same: Death. Death by stupid or death by crazy. Still death.
Go ahead, give me your best argument for how binge drinking on college campuses is just a rite of passage. I’ll listen, but you won’t likely sway me. I may wear blinders, but I don’t fall for peer pressure.