Underage drinking is probably more common than most people realize with four out of five college students consuming alcohol — often binge drinking.
Although many parents assume their kids who are younger than 21 years old will try alcohol at some point, they tend not to worry as much when it happens on a college campus where local authorities and governing bodies are responsible parties.
Things become different, however, when kids come home from college for Thanksgiving. It may be their first time home since starting college, and they no longer want to have a curfew or follow rules. This can be a difficult time, leaving parents struggling to decide how to enforce basic rules, including a curfew and not drinking alcohol.
Black Wednesday is “the night before Thanksgiving Day, often celebrated with merrymaking" and is one of the biggest drinking days of the year, according to urbandictionary.com. This website isn’t alone in its definition, however. The Wall Street Journal cites Thanksgiving Eve as one of the most dangerous nights to be traveling on the road, due to alcohol-intoxicated drivers. Sadly, many of these drivers and revelers are too young to be drinking.
Dangers of underage drinking
Drinking alcohol can lower inhibitions, make thinking foggy and reduce reaction time. When combining these factors with the natural risk taking tendencies and need for acceptance young people have, dangerous things can happen. Underage drinking leads to 1,600 homicides each year, according to Mothers Against Drunk Driving. This is in addition to all the mild to severe injuries and instances of sexual assault that are connected to underage drinking. The dangers are real, but how do things get so out of hand, and why on Black Wednesday?
Thanksgiving Eve: the perfect storm
When college students are home for Thanksgiving, the short break may mean parents aren't strict about rules, and there’s no last-minute shopping to do, compared to winter break. Most people don’t have to work on Thanksgiving, which makes Thanksgiving Eve the ideal night to party hard. High school friends are in town, and nostalgia is in the air. People may end up doing foolish things because they figure they’ll be leaving town in a few days, anyway. Bars host drinking games and offer discounted alcohol to draw in customers on Black Wednesday, and college students may have fake IDs. The “what happens in Vegas” mentality and relaxed parental supervision creates the perfect breeding ground for underage drinking.
How to protect your family
Even if young people don't plan to drink, it's difficult when friends are drinking and having fun together. To avoid falling prey to peer pressure in a tricky situation, those younger than 21 should avoid places that serve alcohol on this night, instead staying home to enjoy family time or inviting friends over for a movie night.
Parents should have an open dialogue with their kids about underage drinking and the expectations surrounding it. Talk with your child often about why drinking legally and responsibly is important. That way, when they’re headed out with friends, and you tell them to stay sober and be home by midnight, they’ll be more likely to take your advice.
You can even try holding a party at your home to keep alcohol out of the picture while still letting your kids and their friends relax and have fun.
For more help preventing underage drinking in your family, visit dacco.org.