Even Your Honor Student Gets Wasted

Something happened between fifteen and sixteen. My friends and I, often gathering to play Dungeons & Dragons and play terrible songs in our “band”, graduated from buying hot gingerale at the A & P and challenging each other to chug entire bottles of the eye-watering sodas, to sneaking sips and shots from the liquor cabinet.

It was only a little, at first. We’d raid the liquor from the pantry and pass a bottle around, either drinking it straight or mixing it with a soda from the fridge. Our parents weren’t around, or we made certain they weren’t around by heading back to a house during work hours, and we made huge dents in the alcohol supply in the house. We started to get paranoid about getting caught; never in a face-to-face confrontation, since we had no sense at all that people can smell alcohol on your breath. But we were worried someone would notice the bottles were noticeably emptier. So we would make sure to check the level of the bottles before we drank anything, then we’d add a little water to make sure we’d pass the eyeball test.

Some of those bottles must have been mostly water after a while.

We weren’t “troubled” kids. We were nerds, band geeks, athletes, drama kids. Two of us were on the student council when we graduated from high school. Several of us had scholarships to go to university. We were academic award-winners, and fully invested in extra-curricular, after-school activities. We weren’t burnouts; we weren’t dropouts; we weren’t examples of failure to our teachers or parents. At the time, I was the only smoker in that group; we weren’t rebels or drug-abusers. But we were sneaking booze when no parents were around.

It wasn’t just us, of course, and it wasn’t just during those quiet afternoons when no parents were home. High school parties presented obscenely casual opportunities to drink a little or a lot. Having access to alcohol made you interesting, even if being under its influence made you stupid, so there were social incentives to making sure you didn’t show up to a party as a beer-beggar.

We were lucky, or cautious, or had fewer opportunities, or something: No one I knew ever died in a drunk driving accident. This may have had everything to do with the pedestrian nature of our town, and nothing to do with us. It definitely had nothing to do with our parents: We were certain we’d never be caught. It was that certainty, that adolescent sureness, that kept us going.

What if we’d been less sure?

The video is a little alarmist, and I cringe when I think about the dystopian elements inherent in a society of remote monitors. But if my parents had had a rule that, say, I needed to check in with them via this device at midnight when I was going out…well, who knows?

That being said, teenagers are, as I recall, very sneaky, clever little buggers. Whatever the rules are, teens are built to push them, to break them, to end-run them. Having technology like Soberlink available in the early 90’s may have merely changed the way my friends and I found ways to experiment with alcohol. Maybe none of us would have puked in a toilet at a party, but maybe those afternoons, while we were all being latch-key kids alone with the liquor cabinet, would have been more frequent.

Is this a completely unreasonable invasion of privacy for teens? Or is it a great tool for parents who suspect something is going on? Is it only good in extreme cases? Or should it become as routine as brushing teeth? How important is preventing underage drinking to you? Would this work? Would it be worth it?

(This post has been sponsored by Soberlink. They, presumably, hope you think the technology is interesting enough to check out, to talk about, to think about, and to introduce into your lives. I hope you think “Even my honor student might be getting wasted. What should I do about that?”)

25 thoughts on “Even Your Honor Student Gets Wasted”

  1. I don’t think something like that is going to keep kids from drinking. They will only become more sneaky about it. The only way to keep kids from drinking is to teach them well, set a good example, keep the lines of communication open, be hands-on parents and spend time with your kids. Even that doesn’t guarantee results, but I think it works better than showing your children how little you trust them by hooking them up to such a device.

  2. My parents bought me wine coolers when I was 16 and let me drink them at home, so I could know my limits and know what it feels like to be drunk. Along with a couple friends whose parents knew what was going on. No one drove, no one got hurt, and I have never been in a scary situation involving alcohol. I knew my parents trusted me, and I knew how to be responsible.

    Not saying everyone is like me- but honestly, if my parents would’ve hooked me up to this when I was a teenager, it would’ve made me want to drink more just to spite them, instead of making me feel “Accountable”

    Knowing my parents trusted me made me feel plenty accountable, and knowing I could talk to them honestly when I needed to was even cooler.

    1. My mom told me that if I was going to drink, I should do it at home. Circumstances worked out such that that was not even an option when the time came. But I wonder if my experience would have been different if it had been the case.

  3. …ps- I have a confession.
    I am an adult now and every week 8 of my adult friends come over to drink.

    ….while playing Dungeons & Dragons.

  4. A big part of the problem is that the pre-frontal cortex of the brain is not fully developed until the early to mid-20s. You know — the part of the brain that helps us make difficult decisions, check our impulsive desires, and think clearly in the heat of the moment.

    When I look back at my own growing-up in 1980’s hippie Maui, I cringe at the risks we took. BUT — we didn’t have crystal meth around here then, either. The risks are much higher these days

    I have no idea how we’ll negotiate the issue as parents, but I wish we could just encase the kids in bubble wrap until their brains are more mature. “Keep them alive ’till 25” — something like that.

    1. Oh God, the meth.

      I was always DEATHLY AFRAID of drugs, so I probably wouldn’t have tried meth even if it were offered. But what the hell are we going to do about that one?

  5. My parents ALLOWED me to drink as much as I wanted at home. I didn’t drink a sip until I was out of the country (at 17) and then again until I was in college (at 20). This, though, had I wanted to drink, would not have stopped me. I was the secretary of the National Honor Society and the President of the German club for a reason – I would have been able to hide anything – even with this. (During this time of my HS career – I was also dealing w/a drug addicted sister, though, so that might have overshadowed it a bit).) I don’t think that Soberlink would have prevented me, or any of my friends, from drinking during my underage years.

    Thankfully, my friends had a sober driver each night … me … until I turned “legal” … and I still call favors in, 8 years later. :)

  6. I wonder how many parents would be willing to carry this when THEY go out. Would they be willing to live by the same standards they’re asking their teens to uphold. I’m not saying the parents can’t drink, but that they shouldn’t be driving if they’re over the legal limit.

    1. I already lived up to that standard. As a teenager. 100% sober. I don’t need to do it again, you know? And if it was illegal for me to drink alcohol right now, I would totally do it. ;)

  7. Oh, and I was totally one of those honor students who was also managing to party in my spare time. Something about growing up in a small town. I got bored easily.

  8. I was an honor student who grew up in a small town and got wasted quite a bit. This device would have never stopped me. And if kids want to trick their parents, they’ll figure a way around this gadget the same way kids figure out ways to crack parent protections on computers, the same way what they say on Facebook isn’t what their parents see.

    “Latch key” is a big problem and the fact that parents give kids far too much leash because bigger kids throw bigger tantrums; something about older kids makes parents finally fall for the “but all the other kids are doing it” line, when they were able to hold out all during elementary and middle school.

    If you don’t trust your child enough that you need to use one of these, then don’t let your kid go to the party. Or pick them up. Will kids make mistakes? Sure. But parents seem waaaaaayyy to ready to exhale and claim their *own* freedom from the really hard parts of parenting – it’s an 18 year job at least. Be there. Be involved. Have real relationships with your kids and not just passing through.

    I’ll say 100% that when kids drink and get away with drinking, it’s because parents think “not my kid” and so they never do all the front work; they think “I did everything I could” when really, they didn’t. No one wants to think they weren’t working as hard as they could being a parent. But I’ll tell you, with a kiddo about to turn 13, this is where the *real* parenting begins. Keeping 3 year old from eating marbles and teaching 8 year olds how play nice was cake.

    Teens need far more parental being there than younger kids, as I’m finding out. This is the time to stop working so many hours, getting your kids out of latch key programs, and being there…because they are going to push harder and harder for you to not be there. It’s normal. But again, these are not fully developed heads we’re dealing with.

    1. I agree that latch-keyness is a sure contributor to the problem. For those who, for whatever reason (presume it’s a good one) can’t help but let their teens roam free in the world a bit, is this device even anything like a bandaid on the wound? Or is it totally useless, even if you are in that situation?

  9. I don’t think it would have made a difference for me either. I was sneaky and clever and it was far more important to me to be where my friends were and do what they were doing than it was for my busy parents to try and stop me. I was an honor student too and in the end I think my parents decided that if my grades didn’t slip, they didn’t ask. I won’t take the same approach, but I have no idea what I’ll do.

    Mostly, I just love the way you wrote this post.

  10. I totally dated you in high school. Oh sigh. You know, I was trusted and a really good kid with the communication lines open but I still experimented. I think I like the idea of using technology to help with this and will absolutely consider it with my kids, knowing that it couldn’t end there and that I’d have to still keep an eye or two open but it’s a nice start. Maybe a nice START to that open communication.


  11. Dude, we totally would have found a way around a technological barrier to our sneaking booze. We were the nerds, after all.

    Although I’m still amazed that my mother never asked me if I was watering down her booze.

  12. I’m awaiting the device that monitors the length of those tiny shorts the girl in the video (and every girl I see coming out of my son’s high school) wears these days. “In my day, little missy, we wore shorts that came to our knees and we liked it!” I want to yell from the car window every time I see one of them prancing about in underwear shorts.

    Then I remember I have boys, so naturally, I’m not really that worried about it.

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