Teenagers, Alcohol, Danger
Alcoholism often begins in adolescence and may become a life-long problem.
Teens are drawn to drinking alcoholic beverages, smoking and try a variety of
illegal drugs that alter their experience and behavior. Teenagers are
risk-takers and seek excitement. Teenagers copy the behavior of other teens.
Teenagers drink alcoholic beverages as a matter of course, even when drinking is
restricted, illegal and dangerous. Teenagers often get drunk and some develop
high risk drinking behaviors at an early age.
Modern parents of teenagers will often doubt that they have any role to play
except to offer custodial support and then recognize that their jurisdiction is
limited. Good parents are role models who moderate the use of alcoholic
beverages, do not smoke and teach their children to prefer clear minds and sane
sober behavior and to avoid intoxication with any drug. Good parents offer
sustained custodial support of their adolescent sons and daughters, recognize
the risk of drinking and establish lawful conduct at home.
Puberty changes the entire programming manifest by children and raises the
ante so that the relatively safe play of younger children is replaced by the
more dangerous and consequential play of teenagers. Parents are often unprepared
for the major transformations that occur after puberty and feel estranged from
the new person emerging awkwardly and contentiously in their own home.
I noted a bumper sticker that said: "Teenager for sale cheap - take over the
payments." The process of become a civilized, competent, compassionate
human is long and arduous and some teenager do not make it. Teenagers are in the
business of separating from their family and are drawn to the values, activities
and norms of their peer group.
They seek role models in the media and imitate examples of costume, values
and behavior that seem attractive to them, even odd, bizarre, antisocial
behaviors. Movies, "music" and television programs are stronger influences than
parental example or advice. Teenagers have a tense mix of old primitive features
in their mind and new modern ideas. They tend to manifest tribal behavior and at
the same time develop individual, modern personalities. Adolescent society is
stratified, competitive and relatively unforgiving.
Teenagers cluster in small groups with strict inclusion/exclusion rules. They
manifest ancient animal and human social patterns quite spontaneously and the
importance of group affiliation with their peers takes precedence over family
affiliation. Family values and teenager group values often conflict and the
conflict is seldom resolved in favor of the family unless parents are determined
and on the job 24 hours a day. For decades, American literature has described
and decried the alienation of adolescents from their parents and a host of
studies have confirmed that peer group dynamics influence teenagers more than
their parents. Teenagers "hang-out" together and spontaneously form groups that
drift on the periphery of the adult society. Typically, deviant, antisocial and
criminal behavior emerges as a group expression. Even "nice" teens routinely
experiment with alcohol, drugs, sex and other forbidden pleasures, commit minor
felonies, conceal their activities from parents and teachers and lie when
confronted with allegations of improper conduct.
Individual teenagers may have a well-developed understanding of the adult
rules, but even those with a well-developed sense of local mortality will
participate in behaviors that the adult community finds unacceptable.
Teenagers tend to invent their own vocabulary and use jargon to identify members
of their own social group. Teenage groups are not kind to outsiders and
adolescent society reflects all the strengths and weaknesses of an adult society
sometimes in an exaggerated, dramatic way.
Adolescent behavior and teenage gangs in particular remind us that drama on
the ancient African Savannas has simply time-traveled to contemporary cities and
suburbs. Teen gangs are primitive clan structures that repeat human behavior
thousands of years old. Teens who are not so nice, form gangs to commit crimes
and murder with appalling ease. Teenagers are narcissistic and are often trapped
in self-talk and case making.
Some teenagers are kinder than others and develop an idealistic view of human
life and may be at risk because they are too trusting and suggestible. Other
teens are more cynical and aggressive and believe that only they understand what
is right and true. Teens form cliques or gangs and the greatest cause of teenage
suffering is to be excluded from a desirable group.
Members of inferior groups are treated badly by members of superior groups
and outsiders emerge who are isolated and alienated individuals. Inferior or
isolated individuals are taunted, threatened, pushed, bullied, ridiculed,
sexually harassed, beaten, robbed and sometimes killed even by nice children in
affluent Canadian and American suburbs. Alienation pushes an unwanted teenager
toward one of four destinations:
- creative alienation; scholarship, poetry, music, art, political activism
- withdrawal, depression and risk of suicide.
- revenge, antisocial ideas, affiliation with groups that express hatred
Alienated individuals can form groups that develop and express their
disappointment and anger. Often these groups borrow costumes, ideology, ritual
and values from existing ideologies - the skinheads, for example, adopt fascist
values and admire German Nazis of the 30's and 40's who now epitomize for most
adults evil intentions and deeds.
Binge drinking often begins in adolescence. Some teenagers survive
their drinking escapades and become more or less reasonable adults. Others
continue on an alcoholic path. Some die violent deaths, mostly in cars they
drive and crash while intoxicated. Giving a teenager keys to the family car and
enough money to buy beer or whiskey to take to the party is a high risk mistake
that too many parents make.
Good parents tend to be unrealistic about their adolescent children and
assume they have better judgment and self-control than they actually have.
Drinking a few drinks erases the little judgment that a teenager may possess.
According to Michigan Universities 1998 survey: "The use of
alcoholic beverages by American teen-agers had been drifting upward very
gradually in recent years as they came to see behaviors such as weekend binge
drinking as less and less dangerous…. one-third (33 percent) of all high school
seniors report being drunk at least once in the 30-day interval preceding the
survey. The risk perceived to be associated with weekend binge drinking began to
rise two years ago among eighth- and 10th-graders (after having declined for
Stroh wrote: 'Teens who joke about killing brain cells while downing beers
may find the idea a bit less funny when they grow up. A report by the American
Medical Association shows that adolescents and young adults who drink risk brain
damage, especially when it comes to learning, memory and critical thinking… the
number of young people who drink is increasing. In 2000, 3.1 million people aged
17 and younger took a drink for the first time, according to the AMA report. The
brain appears to be particularly susceptible to damage during high school and
college -- the prime drinking years…After only three drinks with a blood-alcohol
level slightly under the 0.08 legal limit, volunteers were 25 per cent less
accurate on memory tests."