After every school dance, Broughton High School Principal Stephen Mares used to worry all night, wondering whether his phone would ring in the early hours with a weary voice using the words “student,” “alcohol,” “accident.”
In his three years at the Raleigh school, Mares had never monitored a dance without an alcohol incident – until last fall’s homecoming.
Tired of the wink and a nod that he felt drinking students expected, Mares, a father of five, instituted a Breathalyzer policy this school year. Before students can get to the songs, snacks and streamers, they have to stop and exhale.
“I have a ninth-grader who’s learning to drive,” Mares said. “I worry about my five kids. But I worry about my 2,200 kids here.”
Many of those 2,200 kids haven’t been pleased as punch about the new policy. Broughton sponsored a forum last week to answer their questions and to disseminate information about underage drinking.
The forum – featuring Dr. Michael Lancaster, a Raleigh psychiatrist, Wake District Court Judge Robert Rader, and Mares – was scheduled before a Millbrook High School student died this month in an alcohol-related crash. But the pain of Elizabeth Molloy’s death after a late-night party provided plenty of poignancy to what could have been just another night of preaching.
“You need to understand the consequences, and it’s not just about you,” Rader told the 200 or so attendees. “It’s not about Garrett Prince (the driver charged in Molloy’s death). It’s about the girl who died. It’s about the family of the girl who died. It’s about his family. Engaging in this can have lifelong effects.”
Lifelong. Life. Long. Getting teenagers to understand that stupid split-second decisions can have lifelong consequences seems as likely as cursive writing making a comeback.
What would help is for teenagers to be willing to tell one another that they look like idiots while impaired, and for parents to call out other adults.
“If a child came home and said, ‘We had beer at this house, and the parents were there,’ how many people would call that parent and say something?” Lancaster asked at the forum.
I have always been that parent – the one who called to see what the movie was rated before I dropped off my then-11-year-old son at the theater for a birthday party, the one who called the other girl’s mother before I let my daughter head over for a sleepover.
I’m always reminded, however, of something that parenting columnist John Rosemond said during a talk once at The N&O. “My mother knew no matter how well she parented, I was capable of leaving her and making a decision that was depraved, degenerate and disgusting.”
Role-play with teens
To help decrease the chances of depravity, parents should role-play with teenagers, Lancaster said.
“Say, ‘What would you do if …?’ ” he said. “The adolescent brain needs to practice. You don’t want it to get caught cold.”
His biggest hope is that students will help one another see that it’s better not to drink. That’s the lesson Darius Kirksey, a junior, took away from the forum.
“I learned that you have to keep your friends from drinking and driving, even if you have to remove the keys to keep them safe,” he said.
Rader highlighted tougher teen-specific laws that went into effect Dec. 1 but also his role as a Broughton parent.
“We can as parents give you the best direction we can,” Rader said. “We can nurture you, try to set that moral compass, try to teach you right and wrong, but when you boil it down, it’s your decision.”
That’s a hard truth that parents just have to live with. Getting one teenager to understand that “lifelong” means so many lives beyond his own would be a success story. Keeping high school dances from being drinking rites of passage would be another.