Raising teens is like juggling chainsaws. Peer pressure is insidious, hyper-fueled by social media.
My daughter turns 21 this week, the supposed signature of young adulthood as well as entitlement to legally drink. For medical reasons, Gilly will abstain from the traditional alcoholic birthright. Epilepsy and vodka do not mix. Because of this, she has learned how to have fun in college without beer pong.
I admire Gilly’s fortitude and not only because I’m her mother, but also because I was once young and impressionable, too. The influence of peers can never be underestimated, especially when you’re figuring out who you want to be while your frontal lobe is still baking.
Which makes me think about the Florida State University student who recently died of alcohol poisoning after off-campus binging at a fraternity party. And the student before him. And the thousands before.
FSU quickly responded with a ban on the Greek system. OK. I get it. Frat hazing should never be condoned. But what about the non-Greek partiers? What is the university’s responsibility to them? And this isn’t a beat-down just on FSU. Nationwide, colleges and universities have found themselves under scrutiny for students’ alcohol-related deaths.
This week, Florida’s Board of Governors, which oversees the university system, announced an initiative for universities hiring more than 100 mental health professionals within four years. Studies have shown students who receive counseling often fare better than those who do not. And while mental health issues are more complex than peer pressure to drink excessively, the board’s move is a good one.
Yet this action is more pull than push. Counseling is only effective if the students seek it. Bring the message to the students, right? However, my expert sources — aka my daughter, her friends and former college students whom I taught — tell me most proactive alcohol education falls on youthful deaf ears.
This is where parents and a strong family support system can help, but goodness almighty, it’s hard.
Before I had children, I had many opinions on how to be a good and engaged parent. Then I became one. Talk about humbling. Raising teens is like juggling chainsaws. Peer pressure is insidious, hyper-fueled by social media. A drunk selfie on Snapchat has too often become a young person’s rite of passage. No matter what you say or try, at some point, your children will yield to the court of their BFF.
Another anti-binging solution that has been vetted is lowering the legal drinking age to 18 years old. Make the forbidden fruit less forbidden. There are pros and cons, though it does take societal pressure into account.
I believe going straight to the source is always a good idea. Ask college students what else can be done to prevent another loss of life. What keeps you from binging? On the flip side, what entices you to stay by the keg longer than you should? Heck, what got you to the keg to begin with?
Root cause is the key. Banning, educating, parenting, listening, counseling and talking are necessary parts of addressing what is really a societal issue, not just a Greek system one.
Most college students grow up and out of the imbalanced need to please their peers. However, some are wired not to, like the FSU fraternity pledge.
Anytime there is a tragedy like this, I’ve noticed a pattern. I call it the Five Stages of Outcry. Shock. Then, Anger. Followed by a candle-light vigil. A responsive action of some sort comes next, bookended by — and let’s be honest here — most of us returning to focus on other things.
The victims and their families do not have that last option.
We’re missing a stage. We need an effective response that produces lasting results. It will take all of the above to address this deadly issue.
Vigilance over vigils, please.
Amy Mangan is a native Ocalan and longtime writer. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.