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Guest Opinion: Parents need to wake up and smell the alcohol

by Lance Crowley

Douglas County needs to wake up and smell the alcohol.

As a Juvenile Probation Officer in this community for the past eight years, I have been faced with the difficult issue of teen drinking and substance abuse on a daily basis, and have struggled with how to counsel parents and other community members on how to appropriately and effectively deal with this perennial concern. We at JPO and in other agencies dealing with youth see the often tragic results of parental enabling and denial when it comes to addressing “the partying problem” in their kids. Often parents come to us seeking assistance, desperately wanting to confront the issue with their children, but not knowing how to do so effectively.

“Never underestimate the power of denial.” This quote from a teen-age character in the movie “American Beauty” describes their parents’ ineffectiveness in confronting and preventing their continued substance abuse. My first piece of advice to parents is to open your eyes and recognize the problem for what it is – a threat to the life and well-being of your child. My second is to advise you to send clear “no use” messages to your child. If their role as teens is to push the limits of what is allowed, then our role as adults is to communicate effectively to them that we do not accept, we do not approve and we will do what we can to ensure their safety.

The great Carson City counselor Mariano Sanchez, who recently passed away, had this to say to parents at one of his many presentations in our community: “If your child died in a car wreck this weekend due to drinking, wouldn’t you want to know that you had done everything you possibly could have to prevent their death? Would you want to spend the rest of your life knowing that you had looked the other way or otherwise condoned their behavior by allowing it to continue?”

A few weeks ago, this paper reported that a local teen-ager had died after a fall “climbing in the moonlight” at around 4 a.m. while “camping” (translation: staying out all night without adult supervision, drinking). He was 18, technically an adult, and my heart goes out to his family, who I know had gone to great lengths to prevent such behavior and send appropriate messages to all of their children. The lesson learned by many of his peers whom I spoke to, however, was to throw commemorative parties and get sloshed in his honor. Some of them ended up in our Detention Center. I have seen this pattern repeated with each funeral that I have attended for a teen-ager in this Valley. It seems these youth are missing the point. Are they parents?

Teen drinking is not reserved for sad occasions, however, if last week’s graduation is any indication. An associate and I “attended” (translation: “crashed”) a large party at Chimney Beach at Lake Tahoe last Thursday, attended by more than 100 youths from across the normally cliquish social spectrum. There were jocks, stoners, cheerleader-types, honor students, murder suspects, 14-year-olds and 25-year-olds, who I assume had supplied the alcohol and other substances. The alcohol was the great equalizer. Faced with the large numbers involved, all we could do was to contact the local authorities and hope they could address the drunk driving issue at the roadside. The truth is that there is only so much the authorities can do, and it’s a long winding road from the party to your driveway, Mom and Dad. Did you give them the keys? Talk to them closely when they got home? Are you prepared to pull those keys at the faintest whiff of alcohol?

Not having all the answers, I go to the source by speaking to the kids in their classrooms.

“What advice do you have for adults dealing with kids in trouble in Douglas County?” I ask them.

“Everybody drinks,” one young man, a member of the tennis team, stated. “I don’t know any kids who don’t drink.”

While this may be an exaggeration, his perception worries me greatly.

Another student put it more bluntly: “(Adults) in Douglas need to pull their heads out of their ___. There is a party every night of the week, and no one does anything about it.”

As one of the many in the community who are trying to do something about it, I write this not to cast blame in any direction, as I believe there are things that each of us – parents, legal authorities, school administrators, counselors, health professionals and concerned others – could be doing to more effectively respond through our actions and the messages we send our youth. I invite others who are concerned about teen “partying” to add their views and advice, in this forum and others. A community response is what is needed. I wish to re-open a dialogue around this issue, sharing our perspectives and concerns and thereby improving our responsiveness, hopefully before the next funeral.

For those who desire to learn more about effectively confronting teen substance abuse, I recommend the short book, “Choices and Consequences: What to Do When a Teenager Uses Alcohol/Drugs,” by Dick Schaefer, The Johnson Institute, 751 Metro Blvd., Minneapolis, MN 55435, (800) 231-5165.

n Lance Crowley and his “associates” can be reached at the Juvenile Probation Office in Minden at 782-9811.