Teenagers, Alcohol, Danger
Alcoholism often begins in adolescence and may become a life-long problem. Teens are drawn to drinking alcoholic beverages, smoking and try a variety of illegal drugs that alter their experience and behavior. Teenagers are risk-takers and seek excitement. Teenagers copy the behavior of other teens. Teenagers drink alcoholic beverages as a matter of course, even when drinking is restricted, illegal and dangerous. Teenagers often get drunk and some develop high risk drinking behaviors at an early age.
Modern parents of teenagers will often doubt that they have any role to play except to offer custodial support and then recognize that their jurisdiction is limited. Good parents are role models who moderate the use of alcoholic beverages, do not smoke and teach their children to prefer clear minds and sane sober behavior and to avoid intoxication with any drug. Good parents offer sustained custodial support of their adolescent sons and daughters, recognize the risk of drinking and establish lawful conduct at home.
Puberty changes the entire programming manifest by children and raises the ante so that the relatively safe play of younger children is replaced by the more dangerous and consequential play of teenagers. Parents are often unprepared for the major transformations that occur after puberty and feel estranged from the new person emerging awkwardly and contentiously in their own home.
I noted a bumper sticker that said: "Teenager for sale cheap - take over the payments." The process of become a civilized, competent, compassionate human is long and arduous and some teenager do not make it. Teenagers are in the business of separating from their family and are drawn to the values, activities and norms of their peer group.
They seek role models in the media and imitate examples of costume, values and behavior that seem attractive to them, even odd, bizarre, antisocial behaviors. Movies, "music" and television programs are stronger influences than parental example or advice. Teenagers have a tense mix of old primitive features in their mind and new modern ideas. They tend to manifest tribal behavior and at the same time develop individual, modern personalities. Adolescent society is stratified, competitive and relatively unforgiving.
Teenagers cluster in small groups with strict inclusion/exclusion rules. They manifest ancient animal and human social patterns quite spontaneously and the importance of group affiliation with their peers takes precedence over family affiliation. Family values and teenager group values often conflict and the conflict is seldom resolved in favor of the family unless parents are determined and on the job 24 hours a day. For decades, American literature has described and decried the alienation of adolescents from their parents and a host of studies have confirmed that peer group dynamics influence teenagers more than their parents. Teenagers "hang-out" together and spontaneously form groups that drift on the periphery of the adult society. Typically, deviant, antisocial and criminal behavior emerges as a group expression. Even "nice" teens routinely experiment with alcohol, drugs, sex and other forbidden pleasures, commit minor felonies, conceal their activities from parents and teachers and lie when confronted with allegations of improper conduct.
Individual teenagers may have a well-developed understanding of the adult rules, but even those with a well-developed sense of local mortality will participate in behaviors that the adult community finds unacceptable. Teenagers tend to invent their own vocabulary and use jargon to identify members of their own social group. Teenage groups are not kind to outsiders and adolescent society reflects all the strengths and weaknesses of an adult society sometimes in an exaggerated, dramatic way.
Adolescent behavior and teenage gangs in particular remind us that drama on the ancient African Savannas has simply time-traveled to contemporary cities and suburbs. Teen gangs are primitive clan structures that repeat human behavior thousands of years old. Teens who are not so nice, form gangs to commit crimes and murder with appalling ease. Teenagers are narcissistic and are often trapped in self-talk and case making.
Some teenagers are kinder than others and develop an idealistic view of human life and may be at risk because they are too trusting and suggestible. Other teens are more cynical and aggressive and believe that only they understand what is right and true. Teens form cliques or gangs and the greatest cause of teenage suffering is to be excluded from a desirable group.
Members of inferior groups are treated badly by members of superior groups and outsiders emerge who are isolated and alienated individuals. Inferior or isolated individuals are taunted, threatened, pushed, bullied, ridiculed, sexually harassed, beaten, robbed and sometimes killed even by nice children in affluent Canadian and American suburbs. Alienation pushes an unwanted teenager toward one of four destinations:
Alienated individuals can form groups that develop and express their disappointment and anger. Often these groups borrow costumes, ideology, ritual and values from existing ideologies - the skinheads, for example, adopt fascist values and admire German Nazis of the 30's and 40's who now epitomize for most adults evil intentions and deeds.
Binge drinking often begins in adolescence. Some teenagers survive their drinking escapades and become more or less reasonable adults. Others continue on an alcoholic path. Some die violent deaths, mostly in cars they drive and crash while intoxicated. Giving a teenager keys to the family car and enough money to buy beer or whiskey to take to the party is a high risk mistake that too many parents make.
Good parents tend to be unrealistic about their adolescent children and assume they have better judgment and self-control than they actually have. Drinking a few drinks erases the little judgment that a teenager may possess. According to Michigan Universities 1998 survey: "The use of alcoholic beverages by American teen-agers had been drifting upward very gradually in recent years as they came to see behaviors such as weekend binge drinking as less and less dangerous…. one-third (33 percent) of all high school seniors report being drunk at least once in the 30-day interval preceding the survey. The risk perceived to be associated with weekend binge drinking began to rise two years ago among eighth- and 10th-graders (after having declined for several years)."
Stroh wrote: 'Teens who joke about killing brain cells while downing beers may find the idea a bit less funny when they grow up. A report by the American Medical Association shows that adolescents and young adults who drink risk brain damage, especially when it comes to learning, memory and critical thinking… the number of young people who drink is increasing. In 2000, 3.1 million people aged 17 and younger took a drink for the first time, according to the AMA report. The brain appears to be particularly susceptible to damage during high school and college -- the prime drinking years…After only three drinks with a blood-alcohol level slightly under the 0.08 legal limit, volunteers were 25 per cent less accurate on memory tests."