Stories about underage drinking are not unusual. But the difference was this: The TV reporter had teenage children of her own, and at the local high school, her children were not only ostracized by the other students, they were physically harassed at school and verbally abused on all the social networks their peers use to communicate with one another.
She felt her own children were in danger of physical harm from bullies who objected to their mother airing reports that threatened their “fun.” At least, that’s how they saw it. They were angry with her for exposing how easy it was to buy booze at their favorite liquor store. “You just ruined weekends for all kids underage,” said one email message.
But the messages went a step further: “You can’t take away something the kids love without expecting retaliation.” Some of these underage youth see drinking as a rite of passage, and pointing out their illegal activity is interfering with their right to participate.
Wait a minute. It’s one thing to talk of harmless teenage pranks or their objections to parental rules and school authorities, but it is quite another to advocate defiance of well-accepted laws aimed at protecting the lives of young people too immature to understand the danger illicit alcohol presents to themselves and others.
When I was growing up in Louisiana, plenty of teenagers were able to get their hands on beer, and sometimes, hard liquor. It was wrong then; it is wrong now.And so was the bullying that occurred by my peers of anyone who refused to go along with illegal drinking.
Parents used to put a stop to such activity when they found out about it. Many parents today, however, are too busy with their own lives to intervene in the dangerous behavior of their children. Parents often leave the critical job of shaping the character of their children to teachers. And too many teachers are so afraid of retaliation that they forget to teach the most important lesson in the curriculum: “Add to your knowledge self-control.”
It’s an old proverb, but it applies in this case, and in every case where outrageous activity exceeds acceptable behavior.
Students have not successfully completed their education if they graduate from high school unaware that practicing self-control instills a mental discipline that pays dividends, not just on Saturday nights when one is tempted to join friends in drinking, but also in daily life, where the exercise of self-control is fundamental to success, no matter the vocation one has chosen.
Paul Wood is president and CEO of Georgia Electric Membership Cooperative. Reprinted with permission from GEORGIA Magazine, May 2012;www.georgiamagazine.org.