Fun without alcohol

A friend described a birthday party her husband had attended. The couple, along with their young daughter, had flown to another state, and her husband had gone off to celebrate with former college buddies.

"He didn't come back to the hotel until 4 in the morning. I took one look at him, and said to my daughter, 'Let's go downstairs to the lobby and let Daddy sleep.' " She sighed as she confided in a boys-will-be-boys tone of voice, "He was so hungover."

I wondered what kind of message the little girl received when she saw her dad in that condition. The acceptance of social drinking begins early, with patterns that parents help set. If moderation or abstinence is the norm, kids see this. If mom and dad entertain with glass in hand, kids notice.

During a typical weekend, an average of one teenager dies each hour in a car crash, and nearly 50 percent of those crashes involve alcohol, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

But laying blame on parents, schools, or society is too easy.

Citizens of Wellesley, Mass., decided to reject the fingerpointing and look at drinking as a community-wide problem. They didn't wait until a fatal drunk-driving accident to act. The town's approach - one of dialogue and consensus building - is still a work in progress. Adults are also trying to offer teens alternative activities to help counter the lure of partying.

In the meantime, cities are looking closely at public-health campaigns that have helped change American attitudes toward smoking. How many legions of parents and officials would be glad to see the day when drinking alcohol becomes more unacceptable than smoking a cigarette?

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