for release August 16, 2002
by Melodie Davis
Editor's Note: Part 2 of a 2-part series on alcohol on university campuses
Back to the Books - Or Booze?
So, haven't kids always drunk in college? Maybe. Back in ancient history I remember the first off-campus party where I was exposed to kids drinking (and this at a Christian college). I tried to be cool and accept it nonchalantly, and of course I didn't tattle. But as one study concluded (McCormick and Kalb, 1998), "The collegiate culture of drinking seems to be moving from keg parties to industrial-strength guzzling."
I wish more parents would wake up and smell the stench, especially those parents who are giving their kids a free ride through college. Some kids may deserve a free ride, but if my kid were schlepping his way through college at the end of a keg hose on my dime, I would certainly pull the plug. If kids had to work to pay for more of their college or drop out, maybe they wouldn't have time to do all that partying.
However, as with most problems, the solutions are a little complex. If students keep hearing how rampant binge drinking is, that everyone is doing it, they may feel subtle pressure that if they're not doing it, they are really odd. If the students have a perception that everyone is drinking, it is almost a case of self-fulfilling prophecy. Students are told during freshman orientation that drinking will wreak havoc on their studies, but it is like telling a dog not to chase a cat.
As with many problems, we should look also for systemic answers, and not just tell our children not to drink. That is important, but may be pretty useless when looking at the total culture on campus today. Church-related colleges at least have covenants or pledges that most kids sign which encourage wholesome and healthy lifestyles. So the chance of getting involved in a heavy drinking scene is considerably less at private church colleges.
However, if your child chooses to go to a public college or university, they can ask to be put in substance-free housing. If there isn't enough substance-free housing (as is sometimes the case), parents can push the school administration to convert more housing to substance-free. I think it is incredible that freshmen and sophomores who are obviously under 21 are even allowed to live in anything but substance-free housing: its like the administration, even in its official policies, is winking at age-21 drinking laws!
Universities and local communities need to work together. I liked the systemic kind of answer provided by a local landlord of apartments where partying was a frequent problem in the community. This landlord is requiring that students who live in his housing maintain a B average, figuring they will have less time for partying.
The Wechsler study (Harvard) proposed a 12-step program for institutions to deal with alcohol (and some of these sound like the 12-step Alcoholics Anonymous programs), such as assess the ways alcohol is affecting their college; admit that the college has an alcohol problem (this is sometimes embarrassing for an institution to admit, just like with anyone with an alcohol problem); plan for a long term effort; target disruptive behavior for disciplinary action; establish rights for non-bingeing students, and more (see also <http://www.ed.gov/databases/ERIC_Digests/ed436110.html> ).
We have to also look at our own lifestyles and what we model for the kids. Do they grow up thinking that to have a really good time, you have to drink? Or that it is a proper accompaniment to most social occasions? If so, then what can we expect when they think they're "grown up" and away from home?
Not to blame the culture, but with all the alcohol-related advertising they see and indirect advertising in movies, music videos, magazines, the Internet, perhaps the bingeing phenomenon is not too surprising. College sports and drinking seem to go together like football and hotdogs.
Drinking is shown as the normal lifestyle of teenagers and young adults. We've banned cigarette advertising in many places. Smoking kills slowly. Drinking, however, can kill in an instant. Which also gets us to the long-range effects of all this alcohol flowing so freely on college campuses. In the future there will probably be long-range studies showing increased numbers of persons who become addicted to alcohol, and are dying from alcohol-related diseases.
So, do we keep them home, under lock and key? Of course that's not the answer, but if you have raised them knowing right from wrong, knowing the dangers of alcohol and all the rest, they do stand a better chance of withstanding the pressures they will face. Kids who practice their religions are much less likely to be binge drinkers, which is also encouraging. We send them out with a lot of prayer and long tethers; if they know we love them and care about what happens, they will know where they can turn if they have made bad choices.
For a free brochure, "What Parents Need to Know about College Drinking," write to: Melodie Davis, Another Way c/o Name\Address of YOUR newspaper; or e-mail: Melodie@mennomedia.org.
You can also visit Another Way on the Web at www.thirdway.com.
Melodie Davis is the author of seven books and has written her column since 1987. She taught feature writing and has won awards from the National Federation of Press Women, Virginia Press Women and the American Advertising Association. She and her husband have three daughters.
NOTES TO EDITORS: text = 840 words; end material = 105 words
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