Graduation celebrations don't require alcohol

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Jeffrey Meyers, guest columnist

It’s graduation season, and with it comes the joy of achievement and the exhale of all the hard work leading up to it. For high school across the country, graduation ceremonies are a cause of celebration, and can represent the happiest moments of a young adult’s life. With poor decision making, however, graduation parties can bring unnecessary risk and danger to an otherwise positive time. For this reason, it is imperative that students and their families understand the dangerous realities that drugs and alcohol can mean to any gathering, and commit to staying safe, having fun, and being responsible.

For some students there is an unfortunate belief that graduation parties are a time when the rules are relaxed, normal standards don’t apply, and therefore things like drug use or, more commonly, alcohol use is acceptable. Some students even view it as an unwritten “rite of passage”, and lose sight of the very real consequences that can result. Some parents may also be prone to let certain things slide and feel that some alcohol use isn’t a big deal, not realizing the bad message such leniency can send or the very real dangers that can arise from it. Fortunately, however, the word is getting out, with more and more parents and students finding themselves committed to celebrating safely.

The dangers of teens using alcohol or drugs can scarcely be overstated. These substances can have especially adverse effects on developing minds, not to mention a whole host of impairment effects. Alcohol, for instance, not only affects memory, but also decision making and self-control. Decreased inhibitions with teenagers are not a good mix and can lead to dangerous choices, and even place teens at a greater risk for accidents and assaults. When you add driving to the mix, you get a potentially lethal combination for young drivers. In fact, graduation season is notoriously dangerous for young drivers, with the 100 days between Memorial Day and Labor Day considered the “100 deadliest days for teen drivers” based on statistics provided by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. There are a few reasons for this, including a rise in distracted driving, but also impaired driving. Of those under 21 who died in an alcohol-related accident, one-third took place during the prom and graduation season.

For parents, the obvious question often becomes — how can I best initiate a conversation with my teen? The natural tendency is to issue vague warnings “don’t get too crazy, be careful” or overly focus on the negative. The best approach is to balance between the very real negative health consequences of drug and alcohol use, but to also reinforce what the teen has already accomplished (graduation) and to remind them of the negative impact drugs and alcohol can place on their remaining goals. Graduation is merely a transition to greater and more exciting things, and teens who embrace responsibility and safety are best suited to achieve their dreams.

Other parents may think teens experimenting with alcohol is simply “inevitable” and feel their teens are likely to encounter it anyway, despite the parents’ best efforts. This is mistaken. Statewide surveys have shown that nearly half of all 11th-graders in Iowa have never experienced alcohol. By making the smart choice to abstain from alcohol, your teen is not only making the right choice, but also the popular choice. It is also true that, despite their best efforts, they may be placed in a situation where drug or alcohol use is taking place. For this reason, it’s important to talk to your teen about planning. Make sure they know who to contact and how to contact trusted family or friends when placed in a potentially dangerous situation. Taking these simple steps can empower your teen to make the right choices.

• Jeffrey Meyers is an ASAC prevention specialist in Cedar Rapids. Comments: jmeyers@asac.us

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