Thursday, May 9, 2002

What parents can do to stop teen drinking

Published in the Current

A group of about 30 students and parents came together Tuesday night to discuss the role parents play in enabling underage drinking, and to hear firsthand the warnings of a Cape father who lost his son to drunk driving.

They left the meeting, sponsored by the Cape Coalition, with a new respect for their instincts and a few ideas for making a teen center happen in Cape.

John Brady, father of Kevin Brady, a CEHS student who died in a drunk-driving accident nearly two years ago, spoke near the end of the meeting. “It’s been almost two years, but it could be last night,” he said, his voice breaking in the silence of the Town Council Chambers.

He related his last conversation with his son, in which, he said, he just felt something wasn’t right, but didn’t say anything.

“His last words to me were, ‘Don’t worry, dad. I won’t do anything foolish. I love you,’” Brady said. “And then we got the phone call.”

His son’s car had gone off Old Ocean House Road. Police said Kevin had a blood-alcohol level above the legal limit for people over 21, and was driving too fast.

Kevin died, and the passenger in the car was injured.

Brady advised parents to pay attention to their gut instincts about their kids’activities. “Follow your intuition,” he said. “If it doesn’t seem right, it’s not.”

A panel of students and adults addressed issues of teen drinking and parental involvement, as well as ways parents and the community can provide other
activities for teens who say there is “nothing to do” in Cape Elizabeth.

Alex Weaver, a junior at CEHS and student co-chair of the Cape Coalition, said it is not enough for parents to stay at the opposite end of the house when their children’s friends are visiting. And some parents do more to help their kids drink than to stop them. “It even goes so far as the parents supplying the alcohol to the teens to have the party in their house,” Weaver said.

Parent Bob Flynn exhorted parents to be less indifferent. “We’ve got to be a little more responsible. We’ve got to get more involved,” he said.

Some of the problem, he said, may be because parents are too nice.

“Do you want to be a parent or do you want to be a friend to your kid?” Flynn asked. “They want you to be their parent.”

The problem is not going away, Flynn said. “Kids are drinking in Cape Elizabeth in seventh grade. It’s not just high school kids.”

Norm Boucher of Day One told the group that for every underage drinker there are 15 to 25 people around that person who make it possible for the person to drink, from teachers and coaches who look the other way to friends who do homework for their drunk friends. “Parents are the chief enablers,” Boucher said.

Panelists said there were two major misconceptions about drinking in Cape. “It’s not an issue of peer pressure,” Flynn said. “There are a lot of kids who choose not to drink,” Weaver said.

Students and parents alike credited their open relationships as decreasing the likelihood of teen drinking.

Frank, a graduate of a residential substance abuse program sponsored by Day One, said he did not have a good relationship with his parents until they noticed he had a problem with drugs and alcohol.

Cape Elizabeth Community Policing Officer Paul Gaspar explained some aspects of the legality of drinking, including the fact that homeowners are liable for events at a party and for people who leave a party drunk, whether or not the homeowners were in fact present. Liability, Gaspar said, can be as much as $250,000.

Parents, the panel said, need to mean what they say in terms of disciplining children. But parents in the audience were uncertain about what to tell their kids about calling for a ride home.

“You’re one of the enablers if you’re driving that person home,” Boucher said. But other parents wondered if they weren’t just trying to keep their kids safe.

They agreed they needed to be more in touch with each other, to call and check whether what their kids said was happening, was in fact taking place.

CEHS junior Derek Roy said his mother had gotten calls from other parents making sure kids were meeting at Roy’s home after the prom. Roy’s mother said no such event was taking place and it was news to Derek.

Parents also agreed that if they were at an event and taking their child out of the situation, they would also look out for their kids’ friends and fellow students.

“We need to value all the youth of the community, not just ‘my kid,’” said Terry Johnson, adult co-chair of the coalition.

CEHS senior Cara Jordan said she knew of five parties that would happen over the weekend. Flynn pointed out it was only Tuesday night, and already several parties were being planned.

The alcohol policy for school activities came under fire from one parent, who was unclear how it should be enforced, and whether it was enforced uniformly. The School Board will discuss a revised alcohol policy at its May 14 meeting.

Liz Weaver, mother of Alex, told of a story she had heard from former high school Principal Pete Dawson about another school where he worked.

Word got around the community that there was going to be a big party on the weekend. Parents asked him what he was going to do about it. He replied that he had done what he was supposed to do: He had told his daughter she couldn’t go. Dawson, Weaver said, suggested all the parents do the same.

Jordan said the town could use a teen center where alcohol-free activities could happen, but said the funds had been cut from the community center renovation budget. “We need a teen center,” Jordan said, saying she felt kids were not a priority in town.

Flynn said he would arrange a meeting with leaders of the local Rotary Club to try to get funds to build a teen space in the new community center.

The turnout was less than organizers had expected, and one mother of middle school students said, “I would have liked to see more parents here.”

Several area teens, including some from Cape Elizabeth, will be on TV Sunday night, on Channel 13 at 8 p.m., discussing parental roles in underage drinking.