Even Your Honor Student Gets Wasted

09/30/2011 By Shawn Burns

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?”)