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May 15, 2021

"Animal House" an Exaggeration? Not So Much

Beer Tasting

As the mom of a son who will be in college in less than six years, I read with great interest a terrific personal essay by Dartmouth College student Owen B. Jennings in The New York Times today. As a parent, I found it pretty frightening.

"My liver failed two springs ago, when I was a senior in high school," says Jennings. "I don’t know the cause of my liver disease — a genetic mutation, an environmental trigger or just plain bad luck. But one of the many rules of my long recovery has been no alcohol. Not one drink. Not even a sip."

He goes on to describe what college life is like for a student who doesn't drink. I like how Jennings is able to stand back and take a clear-eyed look at the massive amount of drinking going on on college campuses today.

I'm going to ask my 13-year-old son to read this essay so we can talk about it. It's so easy for parents to put their head in the sand about heavy drinking in college (and high school).

In my community, stories circulate about massive drinking parties — with no parents to be seen — that are broken up only when neighbors call the police because kids are driving recklessly down the street, screaming obscenities at each other (often in some warped spirit of drunken fun), and puking in the front yard.

In college, of course, kids are away from parents completely, and we have to rely on them to make good decisions. Obviously, many are making decisions, sometimes nightly, that can either lead to long-term health problems or to tragedy, in the form of alcohol poisoning or car accidents.

Certainly a good number of STDs and unplanned pregnancies are the result of this level of drinking. And the resulting Facebook photos, which can be copied, shared and found on the Web by potential employers years into the future, can be a sad reminder of some pretty stupid decisions.

Jennings says it best: "I’m not talking about the casual sipping of a few beers. Here, alcohol consumption means the rapid and repeated gulping and guzzling of beer after beer after beer. Often, students will drink upwards of 15 or 20 beers. On any given night, a frat brother or a sorority sister will spend hours vomiting. Sometimes a classmate will wind up in the hospital with alcohol poisoning. And often, these people wake up unable to remember anything that happened the night before."

These are our kids. Their futures — and possibly their lives — are at stake here. Talk with them about the heavy drinking that's going on. Share Jennings' essay with them. We need to keep our heads out of the sand. This isn't a "kids will be kids" situation. This is life and death.


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