The 411: Addressing the teen party culture | May 2, 2008 | Danville Express | |

Danville Express

Living - May 2, 2008

The 411: Addressing the teen party culture

by Katharine O'Hara

The San Ramon Valley High School PTSA Healthy Choices and Parent Ed teams hosted a revealing presentation on the party culture at SRVHS last week. The presentation, aimed at SRVHS parents, featured two student speakers, Sheriff's Chaplain Ken Walter, and a showing of "Graduation Day," a film narrated by Dan Rather and created by the Pack Foundation to highlight the hazardous consequences of teen drinking and driving.

The reality-based film, which opened the presentation, chronicles four high school friends through their graduation day and the festivities that followed. After a night of heavy drinking, viewers see (footage shot by one of the students) the four friends pile into a car to drive home, all with blood alcohol levels estimated to be around .24 - a level three times the legal limit for someone over 21. Within minutes, amid drunken laughter, the driver carelessly runs a red light and crashes, killing himself and one passenger.

Upon reflecting on the incident in the film, a surviving passenger claimed that that night - the partying, the shocking amount of alcohol consumed, and even driving under the influence - was not much different than the way she spent most weekends. At times difficult to watch, the film acts as a frightening wakeup call for parents and students alike - an accurate portrayal of the shocking reality of a significant portion of high school students across the country, and the tragedy that can come of that reality.

Following the film, Chaplain Walter recounted a recent experience with a drunken driving accident that killed a Danville teen two summers ago. Though the exact circumstances that preceded the accident are still fairly vague, it is clear that the teen was present at a party beforehand, and that alcohol was the accident's primary cause. Unbelievably, Walter revealed that just one month following the tragedy, the same group of kids who presumably partied with the teen were present at another party and just as drunk as (if not drunker than) at the time of the accident.

That students ritually participate in heavy drinking and partying, and are under the impression that "it will never happen to them," is appalling and only makes it clearer that something has to change. At school it is not uncommon to hear students recounting weekend party experiences involving alcohol, marijuana and other drugs that occurred while parents were home, or even while parents were supervising. Shockingly enough, a significant portion of parents in the community condone drinking and drug use within the "safety" of their own homes, because they figure their kids will experiment anyway and would rather they be at home than somewhere else. But, as Walter remarks, this simply sets a precedent that says it is OK to participate in dangerous and unhealthy activities as long as you are "safe" while doing it. This philosophy is sorely misguided as, in many cases, the "experimentation" does not stop once outside the walls of the home; it simply becomes easier, and less guilt-ridden.

"If we allow our kids to make decisions, they'll make the wrong ones. That's why we're parents and they're kids. We have the responsibility as parents to be, well, parents," remarked Walter.

Walter also explained that because this is the first generation where families with two working parents are commonplace, parents feel they have to compensate for not spending enough time with their teens.

"Too often parents want to do more for their kids than their neighbors. We want to be their friends."

SRVHS student athlete Kevin Grant opened parents up to a world many were unaware existed, describing a typical weekend night for a partying SRVHS student. According to Grant, the "pre-party" usually starts small (about five to 10 students), and initiates drug and alcohol use, often void of parental supervision. With the help of MySpace, Facebook, cell phones and other means of communication, the party quickly grows to 30 or more, and moves to another location.

"It gets scary because they've already started using and they're relying on someone else, who may or may not be under the influence, to get them to the next party spot," said Grant.

Alcohol is typically purchased using a fake ID, by someone's older sibling, or even parents. Grant explains that upon walking into a party one might see drinking games, fighting, crying, trash, pipes, various levels of sexual contact, vomit and sometimes police. SRVHS student body president and speaker Jen Nordine claims that seeing her peers under the influence of alcohol is often "hard to witness."

"Kids get belligerent and are so sick I wonder why alcohol is allowed to be sold at all."

Grant explains that the most intense part of the night is leaving the party.

"You really realize how fragile the connections are between people who have made plans to get home. Most of the time, people don't plan. I have tried my best over the years to give people rides, but in the back of my mind I always know there is someone still looking for a way to get home," he said.

Grant, despite having attended parties, has chosen to remain sober during his high school years.

"Sports have helped me to keep focused during high school. It is when people are bored and have nothing to do that they usually get into trouble," he said.

It is important for students to remember that there are ways to have an active and fun social life without the dangers and complications of using alcohol and drugs. Involvement in team-related organizations provides a social outlet and helps to build a sense of community; when one knows someone else is depending on them to uphold standards, they may be less inclined to participate in destructive behaviors.

Parents should engage in a dialogue with their kids about the choice to party or not and the risks involved, and should make it clear that the negative consequences of driving under the influence are far greater than those of making a call home for a ride. When their teens ask to attend a party, parents should not hesitate to speak to the host's parents before making a decision, and they certainly should not offer to provide the alcohol or party location themselves. Most importantly, should they choose to participate, students should recognize the danger of their actions, and plan accordingly.

The 411 offers information and insight on the teen scene by Katharine O'Hara, a senior at San Ramon Valley High School who spends her free time going to concerts, enjoying her friends, and playing the piano. E-mail her at