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When it comes to booze talk, don't be a chicken

I remember just under two years ago, on the eve of my 21st birthday, toasting to the last underage drink I would ever have. It just wouldn’t be the same once it was legal, you know?

It’d be much nicer if I could write here about how I overcame peer pressures and resisted alcohol until I came to be of legal age, but that’s not the perspective I have. I had two older brothers who broke down all kinds of behavioral walls, and I went to a college that was just named the top party school in the country — which is unequivocally tremendous, by the way.

Alcohol is virtually harmless if advice to “drink responsibly” is followed. Consequences can turn disastrous when such edicts are ignored, however. They nearly did this week in Marion County. Parents of teen-agers have the largest role to play in this conflict.

A significant percentage of my peers in high school — and even college — did not drink. A high percentage of teens here in Marion County don’t drink. That’s a really good thing.

But that percentage, may it ever climb, will never reach 100. No matter what parents do, there will always be kids who drink. Children love alcohol, if for no other reason than that it is strictly forbidden.

I’m not going to defend underage drinking. We almost saw a 13-year-old die of alcohol poisoning and a group of five busted for consuming alcohol as minors. It’s problematic. It brings out erratic behavior in people, especially in kids at an already-erratic stage of their lives.

But underage drinking always will happen. Even in nice communities such as Marion. Children we swear are angels will turn devilish at the site of a bottle of booze. Adults will be shocked by this. It happens every year.

Depravity doesn’t have to end in tragedy, though, and it’s less likely to if parents talk to their children and reason with them.

That last part is important. By being absolute and authoritarian in their policies on drinking, parents encourage secrecy. By offering a mature, reasoned argument as to why underage drinking is bad, and a primer on what to do if a situation turns scary, parents become more of a guide to adulthood and less of a police task force out to bust their kids.

The last thing you want as a parent is your child to think that the lesser of two evils is accepting a ride from a drunk friend as opposed to calling a parent and saying, “You’re going to be mad, but I need a ride home.”

Threatening earth-shattering consequences for any infraction may work on younger children, but once kids figure out that it’s possible to break the rules and not get caught, they tend to make it into an art form.

Parent-child communication is an art form, too. Work at it. It’s tough, it’s awkward for both parties, but it can save a life, or at least — as the parents of a 13-year-old in Hillsboro are finding out — a huge hospital bill.

— ELIOT SILL

Last modified Aug. 20, 2015

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