Guest Column: There’s no good reason for underage drinking

RBC Director of Public Health
RBC | Parenting is hard. It’s confusing and downright exhausting sometimes. Especially the job of cutting the apron strings and allowing teens to try things on their own, allowing them to fail and encouraging them to learn. We all have different approaches and I try to be understanding of all. However, there is one I adamantly disagree with. It is the prevalent parenting notion that “teens are going to do it anyway, and so I’d rather be with them to keep them safe.” Superficially it sounds good, but far too often it is used in the context of illegal activities.
This came up recently in regards to underage teens drinking alcohol in order to celebrate and promote “fun.” Sure, some teens do engage in underage drinking and unless you crawled out from under a rock yesterday, you know drinking and driving is a deadly combination. No reasonable person would want a teen cracking open a beer while shifting into high gear on the road to a friends house. So some jump to the faulty conclusion “I know teens are going to drink anyway, so I would rather them drink safely so no one gets hurt.” Then adults start hosting teen parties, turn a blind eye to alcohol consumption, and justify it all by saying “we are keeping them safe—we make sure they don’t drink and drive.”
I am going to be bold and call this one out—that is just ridiculous!
One way to check the logic of a viewpoint is to replace a few words and see if it still stands up to reason. So let’s change the word “drink” to “steal” (another illegal act). I know teens are going to steal anyway, so I would rather them steal something safely so no one gets hurt.” It doesn’t sound as sensible does it? How about changing the word “drink” to one of these words: buy tobacco, habitually break speed limits, or poach a deer. The argument still doesn’t stand up.
Come on grown-ups, let’s start showing our teens how to have fun without alcohol being involved! Let’s show them we can stop drinking even though our “friends” are buying us rounds or gifting us booze. Let’s start by showing kids that the ability to “drink someone under the table” is not something to brag about—but rather something to be ashamed of.
Can’t we raise money for a good cause without alcohol being the primary draw? Start telling and showing our kids it’s okay to sing karaoke loudly, dance like no one is watching, tell wild stories and voice our real opinions without alcohol being the crutch that takes our inhibitions away. Let’s show kids that great achievements don’t have to be celebrated with a stumble drunk, public display of stupidity. I can’t think of one mental state (even stress) that is solved with alcohol consumption, or a relationship made better with chronic drinking. As a matter of fact, I can’t think of one thing alcohol helps a teen (or anyone else) achieve at their highest potential.
Start now talking with your teens openly about alcohol and the problems that overuse can cause. I am sure the DA’s office, our local law enforcement, domestic violence shelters and marriage counselors will appreciate the help.
(Oh, by the way, before anyone jumps to another faulty conclusion, I am not recommending “prohibition”, a quick glance into history shows how well that experiment went. Education, modeling good decisions and creating alternatives—that is my stump!)

Julie Drake
Julie Drake is the Director of Public Health for Rio Blanco County