The choice to chaperone
Parental supervision of teen drinking is beneficial
Published: Tuesday, October 29, 2013
Updated: Tuesday, October 29, 2013 21:10
Maryland Attorney General Doug Gansler has spurred a national conversation. Last week, the state’s top law enforcement officer drew headlines when a picture of him at a teenage beach-house party was released. The party involved underage drinking.
One thing Gansler should have learned from this incident is that when politicians mess up, the best response is to just say, “I’m sorry.” Defiant reactions generally don’t bode well with the public – especially when you have been caught. But the conversation that ensued has been less about Gansler and more about the role of parents in teen drinking.
Gansler, a Democratic candidate for governor of his state, has not had a good start to his campaign – for this and other blunders. This incident is one, however, with which many parents can empathize. The picture was taken in June during what is known as “Beach Week” – a tradition in which thousands of high school seniors retreat to beach communities the week after graduation.
It is a time of celebration, a time to let loose and bask in the recent accomplishment and the prospect of the future; it is a taste of the freedom of college life. So naturally, this time involves drinking.
Many parents are aware that their children drink before they turn 21. And many want to ensure their children are safe when they partake in what can sometimes be the risky business of drinking. For some parents, they prefer to have a chaperone present for parties that involve underage drinking.
Gansler has not confirmed that he was chaperoning, per se. But his appearance at a party in Bethany, Del. – where his son was staying for the week with almost a dozen recent graduates of the Landon School in Bethesda, Md. – has induced dialogue. The public has discussed whether it is better for parents to take preventive action to stop their sons and daughters from drinking or whether they should facilitate a safe environment for it – because they are going to drink anyway.
Parents have the right to raise their child how they see fit, but there is truth to the claim that teenagers drink. And it is certainly true that once someone gets to college, a whole new level of freedom emerges, and it does students a lot of good to be prepared for the independence.
If they are going to drink anyway, it is good to have them do it with adults present – not only for them be safer, but also to provide restrictions and give high school students the cushion of learning to drink and understanding their limits.
Children who are suppressed during high school tend to go over-the-top wild when they get to college. And this can lead to poor academic performance and even greater problems. The students who come to college with experience drinking at least have a greater sense of all that it entails, and for some, it will eventually become old hat.
Here at UB, we see lots of students push their limits. They do so without parental supervision, because parents aren’t going to be there all the time, and eventually, the time will come when young people go out on their own.
The important thing to recognize about parental supervision for partying in high school is that parents need to have an active role; their presence alone is not enough. Their presence does change the calculus of kids interested in engaging in debauchery – but they can also do more. If a parent is going to let kids drink in their house, they should take away their keys before they let them in to make sure they don’t drink and drive. They should also keep their eyes open to make sure drinking doesn’t lead to excess or more dangerous activities.
High school is a delicate time for young people. Among a host of other things that induce angst, students are in the process of establishing who they are and are going to be. It is well-established psychology that many teens need to release hormonal energy during that difficult phase. Having parents around is at least some insurance that they don’t damage themselves and their futures in the process.
Parents who just wag their fingers in front of their children’s faces and say, “Don’t drink,” are ignoring reality. When the children get to college, they will drink before they are of legal age. It is better to work with your children before they reach that juncture to help protect them from themselves.