Advice from a college student who cares

A college sophomore has kindly written us a letter which she says we may share with Monitor readers. "I attended a very nice public high school in Montana. The students were almost entirely from middle and upper middle class families. Our school had discipline; a well-rounded curriculum; parental involvement; and almost every facility money can buy, including an excellent alcohol abuse prevention program. However, I graduated from high school with three recognized alcoholics, and at least 25 potential ones. The campus of my small, private college, which is full of people from schools and homes just like mine, is home for at least another 10 .

"None of these people started drinking recently, they all began drinking at 13 or 14.

"Some adults are so unhappy with their lives that they drink to escape, some kids drink for the same reason. A beer or two can make a tongue-tied teenager less shy. At any gathering where alcohol is served, a drink in his hand keeps a kid from sticking out.

"A lot of young people feel being drunk is fun, and that being drunk in a group is wonderful.

"Everyone acts just as everyone else does. A drunk kid does not have to worry about how to act, because no matter what he says or does, everyone is going to accept it.

"Being drunk is a protected state. These are all reasons teen-agers drink, but they are not the primary reason and any prevention program which focuses on just these reasons is going to fail.

"Young kids today drink because they feel like adults. They do not drink because they want to appear older, they drink because they consider themselves adults, and in our society the consumption of alcohol is a normal adult pastime.

"It is easy to see how they get this inflated impression of themselves. The high school student has his own job, which assures him of plenty of money, often a car. Their parents are not home when they get home, and they leave for work when their parents come home. They are responsible for themselves a great deal of the time. They must make decisions and handle complex problems in an involved and rapidly changing society.

"Today's teen-ager has more responsibilities and more freedom than any of his contemporaries ever. No one can change the fact that being drunk is fun. No one can alter the fact that some people cannot live without emotional props. No one can make adolescents less likely to overrate their maturity, but parents, and society as a whole, can make them less able to do anything to carry out their ideas.

"Parents should lay down rules and uphold them, know who their children are with, and where they will be. They should command respect.

"When the police break up a party, they should run in every minor there.

"The entire society must not only saym drinking is wrong, they must back up their attitude.

"Kids will still drink, but they will be more careful, and do it less, and that is the only way I can see to prevent alcohol abuse among the young."

Editor's note: The author of this letter is a college sophomore. A related discussion of alcohol abuse also appears on the Monitor's editorial page today. Cynthia Parsons

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