It’s no secret: Westporters like to drink.
We boozed it up during Prohibition, when speakeasies flourished all around town. (One of the most popular, in Saugatuck, was run by a blind man.)
We drank — heavily — in New Haven Railroad bar cars, coming home from Mad Men jobs in the 1950s and ’60s.
We drink today — in restaurants, on the beach, at our well-stocked basement bars — and so do our kids.
Staples yearbooks as far back as the 1940s feature drinking references. In 1975 — when the legal age was 18 — there’s a photo of 7 guys in sports jerseys hoisting steins, surrounded by beer cans.
Teen drinking in Westport is no longer in the shadows.
So there was no lack of alcohol-related opinions Tuesday night, when the Westport Library sponsored a “Community Conversation on Underage Drinking.”
After brief remarks from Staples principal John Dodig — whose mantra has long been that the schools alone can’t deter teen drinking; the issue demands a town-wide response — that community work began.
The 100-plus participants came up with 12 topics. Next, they formed small discussion groups — ranging in size from 3 to 20 — based on the subject that most interested them.
At the end of the session, each group presented its most important points to everyone. Here are the groups, and their main ideas:
Understanding the motives behind teen drinking
- Teens drink because of peer pressure, “normality,” relaxation, stress relief, self-medication, Facebook, games, and thrills
- High school students feel the need to drink because it offers an emotional connection, an unwritten rite of passage, and provides “liquid courage”
- Solutions include stricter consequences, and open parent-child relationships
Parental enabling; choosing to be the parent and not a “friend”; parental involvement; parents who condone drinking and its implications
Ultimately, parents’ responsibility is to keep their kids safe. They can do that by enforcing consequences (and “checking in” with teenagers when they get home); making expectations clear, and forming strong, early trust between parents and children.
External pressure/influence (media, peers, etc.)
- Peer pressure is overrated
- Parental influence can be positive or negative
- There are mixed messages and hypocrisy, including adults not enforcing their own rules
The importance of a strong relationship between parents and kids
- Building trust with parents is crucial
- Dinners together — any time together, in fact — is also very important
Code of silence
There is a code of silence between parents, to “save their relationships with their kids.” But parent-to-parent communication should include parents asking other parents if they allow drinking.
There is also a code of silence that comes from coaches, who ingrain a “we are family” dynamic beginning in elementary school. Coaches also need to be part of a conversation, not only regarding loyalty but also moral behavior.
Strengthening teens’ self-esteem so they can say “no”
The top 3 ways: parents provide healthy role models; parents show positive, trusting belief in their teenagers; parents support teenagers’ expecations and goals, rather than imposing their own.
Other ways: giving a reason beyond just “no”; open communication; being able to call parents at any time; relaxed and trusting parents lead to better and healthier decisions by kids; physical affection, calmness and praise from parents; unconditional acceptance of teenagers; lack of comparison of one kid to another
Alternatives to drinking-based activities
- Parks & Rec-sponsored day trips (skiing, concerts, Lake Compounce, hiking/rafting)
- Explore why Newtown and Greenwich teen centers are reputed to work
Where are kids getting alcohol; methods of making it more difficult for teenagers to drink
Kids get alcohol in Bridgeport and Norwalk, with and without fake IDs. They also get it from homes and parents (though “kids are drinking such large amounts of alcohol that it’s unlikely they are getting it all from parents”).
Making it more difficult to obtain would include having more immediate consequences, and more parental communication both with teenagers and other parents.
Education on drinking-related accidents beyond driving
Topics could include damage to reputation, and consequences due to intoxication; also consistent reinforcement of repercussions (“even with varsity athletes!”).
To what degree is the code of conduct for teams enforced?
- Administration, faculty and coaches must be held responsible for enforcing the contract players and parents sign
- Coach and parent denial implies tacit approval
- Players have a general consensus that there will be no enforcement
- Who will report the behavior?
- What’s the point of a code of conduct if it’s not enforced? And does this provide a “false sense of security”?
Preparing kids for life beyond high school
- Teenagers need help developing a mature perspective before leaving high school
- Parents need guidance for the transition too
- There is a need to distinguish between “use” and “abuse”
That’s a ton of stuff to digest. And it came from a relatively small group — parents who (it was noted) may be part of the “choir” to which the night was preaching; members of Staples’ Teen Awareness Group; a smattering of others.
But — if this is to be a true “community conversation” — then more voices must join in.
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