Don't look the other way on graduation day

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Prom season is over and celebration season continues with this weekend's graduation ceremonies.

It's a time of accomplishment and certainly worth marking with get-togethers with families and friends.

Alcohol is a traditional part of celebrations, but for teenagers, or anyone under 21, it's not just a bad idea, it's against the law, both for the person who consumes it, and those who provide it.

Thankfully, an alcohol-free senior celebration is a tradition at McCook High School and many other schools and a good event for other schools to adopt if they don't already have one.

It's tempting to look the other way and consider teen drinking as a rite of passage, but it that would be ignoring a dangerous problem.

We hope the statistics don't hold true, but if members of McCook High School's graduating class is typical, more than 50 of them drank at least some alcohol in the past 30 days, 22 percent binge drank, 8 percent drove after drinking and 24 percent rode with a driver who had been drinking alcohol.

It's not just seniors, of course. According to a study by Columbia University, underage drinkers account for 11.4 percent of all alcohol consumed in the United States, and the average age for teen boys to first try alcohol is age 11; for girls it's 13.

The National Survey on Drug Use and Health reported that 25 percent of youth age 12 to 20 years drink alcohol, and 16 percent reported binge drinking.

The Monitoring the Future Survey reported that 33 percent of eighth graders and 70 percent of 12th graders had tried alcohol, and 13 percent of eighth graders and 40 percent of 12th graders drank during the past month.

It's not news to most teens or parents of teens, but youth who drink are much more likely to experience school problems such as higher absences and poor or failing grades, social problems such as fighting, lack of participation in youth activities, legal problems such as arrests for driving or physically hurting someone while drunk. They also may have physical problems such as hangovers or illnesses, unwanted, unplanned and unprotected sexual activity and all its consequences, disruption of normal growth and sexual development, physical and sexual assault, and higher risks for suicide, homicide, car crashes and other unintentional injuries such as burns, falls and drowning.

They're also likely to have memory problems, abuse other drugs, have changes in brain development that could have life-long effects and even risk death from alcohol poisoning.

Fortunately, most of Sunday's graduates have escaped the dire consequences of alcohol and drugs, their diploma a testimony to their personal character and positive parental influences.

Let's hope they are able to pass that wisdom and appreciation of personal character on to the next generation.

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