Hysteria about teen drinking doing more harm than goodThe new Adirondack Almanack blog comments the Glens Falls' Post-Star's Crusade against teen drinking (led by its managing editor Ken Tingley). Several local kids in the last few years have died in drinking and driving accidents. It seems every week it runs a story of someone getting busted for serving alcohol to minors. A few months ago, pictures of an underage alcohol party were posted on the Internet and someone reported it to authorities. The parents of one of the partyers were in the picture and this provoked the paper's Crusade.
Kids are getting drunk and dying in resulting car accidents. So how can this Crusade possibly be a problem?
The denial of reality does nothing to address any problem. Tingley derides this as 'the culture of acceptance,' when in fact it's more an acknowledgement. You have to properly analyze a problem in order to have any hope of solving it.
Some will retort something along the lines of: 'the law hasn't stopped all murders/thefts/rape but should we legalize those too?'
Yet murder is not nearly as common as youth drinking. Furthermore, murder and theft and rape are illegal for everyone, not just kids.
Tingley wags his finger at parents to know what their kids are doing and that will solve all the problems. This is a good idea, one that few would argue with. Parents should know what their kids are doing generally but 100% awareness is impossible.
This might be easier for Tingley, whose children are younger. But the reality is that parents micromanage their kids' lives less when they're 17 than when they're 8. Even responsible parents. Especially responsible parents.
It's the natural order of things. Giving kids freedom means giving them a certain amount of freedom to screw up. The alternative is house arrest until they go off to college or move out.
The whole campaign against drinking and driving has been successful precisely because it avoids the head-in-the-sand approach. It's been successful precisely because it recognizes the reality that undesirable as it may be, people will get drunk and need to have a responsible plan B when they do. Tingley's ostrich approach will not save any lives. The opposite is more likely.
Tingley and his paper have made one legitimate point. As long as youth drinking is illegal, parents have the right to reasonably expect that other parents won't give their kids alcohol.
However, what's most demagogic about The Post-Star's 'Stone the heretics' campaign is its almost pathological inability/refusal to distinguish between three very different phenomenons: drinking to excess, teen drinking and drinking & driving.
It's also the most counterproductive aspect of their Crusade.
There is a wider drinking culture in this country. People, kids or adults, can't watch a sporting event without seeing beer advertisements with scantily clad women. Alcohol is marketed as cool. Every weekend, adults stumble around South Street (Glens Falls' bar district) in a state of total inebriation, arguing with lampposts, pedestrians dodging them. Being drunk is worse for kids, physiologically; but certainly it's bad for adults too. Such adult activity has not, to my knowledge, provoked a single self-righteous editorial.
Furthermore, binge drinking (by adults) is tacitly encouraged. Happy hour and drink specials at bars. $1 beer nights at the ballpark. Our local hockey team offers discounted beer for 5 minutes after every power play goal scored by the good guys. Root for the home team AND get drunk at the same time!
Do you think kids don't notice these things?
The focus of most anti-drinking-and-driving education is on kids. When an adult dies in a drunk driving accident, the newspaper never calls for alcohol to be banned for adults. It never calls for a 'burn the witches' campaign against bar owners. It's written off as the bad judgement of one person, something for which everyone else shouldn't have to pay for.
Tingley views the issue in stark terms. His most recent column framed the issue like this: Some believe teen drinking is a rite of passage that can never be stopped. Others say there must be a better way.
There is a better way. But it won't be found with his simplistic dichotomy of 'if not Puritanism, then hedonism'
We don't just give teens car keys the day they turn 16, along with unlimited freedom to drive. There's a supervised transition period. There's a recognition that driving responsibly isn't something your instantly endowed with the minute the clock strikes midnight on a certain day. It's something you have to learn, over time.
In fact, that's the whole basis of parenting. You help them tie their shoelaces until they can do it themselves. You help them ride their bike, catch a fly ball, even bathe them, until they're old enough to do it without you.
Yet we do the exact opposite with alcohol.
Young people are not allowed to legally drinking alcohol for 20 years and 365 days. But the day of that 21st birthday, we suddenly expect them to go from nothing to immediately be able drink responsibly. It's a ludicrous expectation and one that's often betrayed as such by tragic circumstances. We're shocked (SHOCKED!) when college students die of alcohol poisoning.
It's like giving a 14 year old a credit card with a $10,000 limit, sending him on his own and expecting him to use the card responsibly. Except the potential consequence of such folly isn't indebtedness but death.
The drinking culture in southern Europe is much different than here. Kids drink alcohol (primarily wine) at family dinners. As a result, kids there learn how to drink responsibly because it's done in a controlled environment. Kids associate alcohol with social situations like dinner and family gatherings. They are taught to enjoy the taste. Because it's legal, it lacks the forbidden fruit syndrome. Because it's legal, there's less pressure to drink in large quantities (because you never know when you'll be able to drink again). Because there's less binge drinking, there's less death.
For Tingley, it's either reckless permissiveness or total abstinence (until that 366th day after their 20th birthday when anything goes).
Ken Tingley would publicly savage me, and demand I be blacklisted, if he found this essay. He would accuse me of hating kids, of tolerating the intolerable, of killing our children. That's how he treated young Patrick Russell who dared suggest that Tingley's and The Post-Star's hysteria might be making the problem worse, not better.
In another column, Tingley patted himself on the back for the "discussion" (ie: witch hunt) he started: The discussion has moved to a new level and many of the adults are at odds about how to address the problem in their own homes... The discussion is continuing — sometimes heated — but that may be the best sign of all.
This was after his smear of Russell.
I am loathe to use a highly charged term like 'McCarthyistic' but The Post-Star is treading recklessly close.
The laws should to be changed to allow for youth drinking. This should be controlled. A kid should be to drink alcohol legally provided it's with parental supervision (his own). But contrary to Ken Tingley's self-congratulatory assertions. the hysteria whipped up by The Post-Star is not favorable to civilized, reasonable debate. And the ostrich approach advocated by him and his paper is not favorable to kids' well-being either.
Update: The Post-Star ran another editorial on teen drinking/excessive drinking/drinking and driving (which they continue to obstintately refuse to differentiate between).
And no one takes pleasure in seeing anyone arrested and having their names splashed across the pages of their local newspaper, it pontificated. Start publishing in the paper the names of kids and parents who've been charged, and you've got an unprecedented level of social pressure that can't be ignored. And once the public tide turns against the acceptability of the behavior -- as it did with smoking and DWI -- more people will feel empowered to speak out and take action.
They have a funny way of showing lack of pleasure. They're almost breaking their arms patting themselves on the back over the 'discussion' (hysteria) they started.
I'm not sure which is more disgusting: their self-righteousness or the counterproductivity of their self-righteousness.
The editorial even throws in some other boogeymen:
Alcohol is dangerous to our children. It's harmful to them physically. It exposes them to unanticipated situations in which they could be sexually abused or commit crimes or be injured or killed in car accidents. It has the potential to create long-term drug and alcohol problems.
True. But isn't it equally true of adults, for whom getting drunk is legal? Especially due to the refusal of society (led by Tingley's and The Post-Star's ostrich approach) to help kids learn how to drink responsibly.
It's a matter of time before some kid dies because he drank to death the woods or get drunk in the woods and got behind the wheel, instead of drinking at home where parents could make sure they didn't drink too much or take away the keys. The next time that happens, I hope Tingley and his cohorts will be proud of themselves. At least the parents won't have sanctioned it!