EDITOR’S NOTE: A Highland Park ISD parent sent this letter to the editor in hopes that it would provoke a timely discussion about teen drinking. After verifying authorship of the letter, we respected the author’s desire to remain anonymous. But it thoughtfully raises some issues to consider, and we welcome your feedback in the comments section.
A few years ago, I walked with two different friends the week after Homecoming. I forget many things, but remember those conversations like it was yesterday.
What was interesting to me weren’t the similarities in the Homecoming “after party” plans, but the vast differences in the parental response to those plans. It was helpful to me and I want to share it with you as fall dances and parties are now in full swing.
Walk No. 1: According to my friend, the night was off to a great start. Kids arrived for pictures, put their bags with change of clothes in a central location, and then loaded a bus to go to dinner and then the high school for the dance. Everyone was polite, respectful, well-behaved, and having a wonderful time in this great group of good students and rising athletes involved in a variety of other school-related organizations.
Later that evening, the parents hosting the party after the dance were preparing for the bus to arrive and checked the bags for alcohol. It appeared all was clear … as expected from this great group. While they organized the room for the influx of kids, suddenly a large bottle of liquor was discovered in a cowboy boot. That prompted further investigation within the room and adjoining bath, and the parents began to find not just small amounts of alcohol in the typical water bottles, but mega-sized bottles of hard liquor cleverly hidden in shoeboxes, under clothes piles, in drawers, and with cleaning supplies under bathroom sinks. The more they found, the more they looked, and the more shocked they became.
If I had been sitting, I would have been on the edge of my seat. What did the parents do next? These hosts put calls out to the parents of children in the group and asked them to come over before the bus arrived. Those that were able to come collectively decided what to do. When the kids were off to change clothes, a few moms went to talk to the girls and some dads went to talk to the boys. They explained to the kids what they found and what they did with it (poured it out). More importantly, these parents told the kids what could happen as a result of them consuming what had been found — the car accident that could happen, the citation or arrest received, the person that gets alcohol poisoning and/or becomes ineligible to compete after years of preparation.
I was so humbled and blown away by how these parents collectively handled this difficult situation — with deep care for their children and the children in the group. And I do mean children — nearly all were under the age of 18. I was humbled because I had hosted after parties. I had checked bags for some parties and not for others. I had never thought to look elsewhere beyond the bags. When I pictured myself in the same situation as the hosting parents, I could not imagine or even logically think through what I would do. I would hope I would do the same thing they did. Hearing about their response has prepared me to be a better host of an after party and I hope it helps those of you reading this also.
Walk No. 2: I was first struck by what a great group of kids were in this group — super smart kids that had big plans and goals and successes in their high school endeavors, and many had already been awarded great scholarships and opportunities. My friend showed me the email she received less than a week before the dance about this “after party” from the parents who volunteered to host. The email informed all the other parents of the following: they rented a lake house, there would be alcohol present, and they would be collecting keys to ensure no one would drive off intoxicated.
It was very upfront and matter-of-fact. At first, I appreciated the honesty, but as I thought through this more, I found myself very bothered. The email was sent less than a week before the dance. I put myself in the shoes of some of the kids on that list — they have their date, they have paid their portion of the bus fee and possibly even dinner upfront. If they don’t want to go to an after party with alcohol or if they promised their date’s parents that they would not be in a group that would — they have now been put in a very hard spot. Do they back out of the group? Do they forfeit the money already paid, since the bus cost was equally divided among those who committed to go together? Do they go alone or try to find another group? Depending on how well they know their date, this could be very awkward.
I saw the list and there were kids in that group who had a lot to lose by getting caught in a situation that these hosting parents put them in. In that group alone, there was a National Merit Scholar, one who had worked for years to get an appointment to a military academy, and a few others who had applied for special scholarships that are given under the assumption that these students will, at a minimum, obey the law. A careless picture or Snapchat could ruin those plans in a nanosecond.
School has started, and so have the dances and parties. The parents who are facilitating and helping kids to have parties with alcohol — by either providing it or allowing it to be present — may think the kids are thrilled about that. And, no doubt, some will be. But likely there are kids in some groups who are now feeling pressure to break the law and drink from not only their peers, but also from adults in their community. That is very sad. There are also some kids who are thrilled on Saturday about the freedom to drink, but wish on Sunday that “those parents” didn’t allow it … not just because of how they feel, but what they did and what others saw them do that will haunt them for a long time, whether they were caught or not.
I wonder if some parents are just assuming their kids want to drink because it is expected. I also wonder if some parents are even encouraging their own kids to drink to be popular and fit in. That may work initially, but in some cases, the exact opposite occurs. There are too many sad examples of this scenario.
What I learned from these two walks is the vastly different approaches to parenting teens on this issue of alcohol. It helped me to see the contrast in these two responses by parents in our community. It encouraged me to continue to quickly volunteer to host after parties even though there are risks and we don’t have the coolest house. It reminded me to search bags again and other places also (even to look for freshly dug holes on the property based on another story I heard). I reinforced the importance of having a list of all the kids who will be coming and a parent name and phone number in case I need to call. I also learned that I will ask a lot of questions of those parents planning the different aspects of the events my children will attend, so I can prepare my kids for what they might encounter so they aren’t put in a situation they don’t want to be in. It encouraged me to have courage to protect our kids, even if it makes them unhappy in the short term, like the parents on the first walk. I hope it helps you too.