Thursday, December 27, 2007

Choose the Booze You Lose (it's a long one!)

Here's an "article" I wrote for youth group. In summation, we cannot expect our schools to "fix" problems like under-age binge drinking as it is not within their scope of influence.


With New Years Eve approaching I want to address a pertinent issue in our community. New Years is one of the biggest, if not the biggest, party night of the year; which is ironic because you’re either ending or starting your year partying, depending on how you look at it. Either way our students will certainly be in a position to make some choices if not this year, then in a rapidly approaching year.

Over the past several months I have had the privilege of working with a local coalition for drug free schools, made up of leaders from the Rockwood School District and the community. Rockwood students rate higher in participating in binge drinking than other students in Missouri and the country. In those meetings I got be on the “front lines” of alcohol abuse prevention and interact with teachers, students, and law enforcement officials. I learned a lot of information and got to see great efforts being made to face this issue in our community, an issue that could easily be swept under the rug or dismissed as “kids just being kids”.

I commend the efforts of the coalition and look forward to future collaboration with them. However I feel as a person in a position of “influence” with youth and parents, and as a Christian I can offer a unique perspective (by influence I mean I have a forum to espouse my ideas, that doesn’t mean I’m important!). It is not the responsibility of our schools to teach our children not do drink.

It’s ours.

By “ours” I mean parents and other adults who care about what is best for our students not only in the eyes of society (i.e. being “good” kids) but in the eyes of God. You see, our schools can’t really teach our kids about ethics or morality, that is not what they’re charged with. We cannot expect them to, nor be angry when they do not. Our students can learn about the legal and biological consequences of binge drinking, but they cannot be taught about why it is a “bad” choice. Because in making a judgment of what is “good” or “bad”, you will ultimately have to appeal to a higher authority. Otherwise your parameters for what is “good” and “bad” will be mere subjectivity, emotion, or pragmatism.

Again, our schools can demonstrate how you’ll pay this much for an M.I.P. ticket when you get busted or show a picture of a scarred liver after binge drinking for years. But can a health teacher weigh in on whether or not binge drinking is a good choice from a moral standpoint?

The problem with this situation is that most high school students do not find statistics, legal repercussions, or health problems to be a deterrent. After all, when we’re young we’re immortal! The “I’ll never get caught” or “that won’t happen to me” cards quickly trump any grounds we present from the perspective of mere information. So we are left with kids that are well educated but not morally (one could even say spiritually) motivated to resist the lifestyle of binge drinking.

So it then becomes the responsibility of the parents and other caring adults to impart this wisdom to our students. This can be very tricky! As a parent, do you fear your child asking if you ever drank before you were 21? Or that they’ll ask if even after you were 21 did you drink to excess? As a 23 year old male, who is a role model for students, should I feel dirty if I buy a six pack at the grocery store? Where are the boundaries? Total abstinence? The age old “if you’re going to drink I’d rather have you at home safe”?

We need to do more than make students aware of the laws in our community. They need more than stats or mock drunk driving accidents or Bible verses. Students need to see the behavior their parents are expecting modeled. Our students are surrounded by images that promote binge drinking as not just what is cool, but what is normal. If you want to see an image that is being portrayed to our students as “par for the course” behavior, rent “Superbad”.

Students need to be shown that binge drinking isn’t just a “bad choice” because of what it does to your liver or how much community service you have to put in if you get caught, binge drinking is a wrong choice because you’re not really living it up, you’re running away. When you drink it does harm your body; but so does the McDonalds I just ate for lunch. Again, it’s not just about the physical consequences. When you drink you are able to engage in behaviors that you might think twice about if you were sober- so you essentially can be someone else. Because hey, you can just blame whatever you did on the booze! (I won't even get into the drinking and driving issues, when you effect not only your own life, but those around you.) This is no way to live.

So what will “fix” the teen drinking problem is not more seminars or more education or more dramatic depictions of binge drinking, but a relationship with Jesus Christ. Now, that’s a very “youth pastory” thing to say. What I mean by that is, students can relate with peers and other adults who honestly care about them and who are trying to live as Christ did. The student can see a very invisible thing be visibly modeled in others lives! If a student has already committed their life to following Jesus Christ, that student can be encouraged so that they don’t feel like a weirdo and they don’t have to judge the kids who are still engaging in un-wise activities. No one could come up with a sound argument against education and awareness, that would be ridiculous- there are consequences for actions. But we need to see the limits of mere information and re-commit ourselves to the power of relation: modeling the behavior Jesus commands for our students.

Appendix: Please know that I am NOT arguing for the Bible to be taught in the classroom or for our schools to be overtly religious in nature. What I am saying is, what else could you expect from an institution that is not bound to instill the things I described above?

1 comment:

cgb said...

This may be old fashioned, but sometimes "tough love" can also deter teenagers from making 'bad choices.'

Still, regardless of all of the education available to students, it's knowing there are consequences to their actions that helps them realize what a 'bad choice' is.

Parents are not only responsible for teaching their child(ren) about drinking, but need a backbone when it comes to exercising "tough love." If this becomes a problem that persists, then I agree - there are probably some deeper issues that need attention.