Ask A Teen
Recently, my friend Kelly and I were guest lecturing to freshmen at a large public school. As Kelly began, I looked over the audience. Some students were staring off, some were watching us. I noticed a skinny brunette talking loudly. The girls beside her were telling her to shut up. I thought, uh-oh. The girl flopped around in her seat, and it occurred to me that she was drunk. She turned sideways, curled up, and put her head on the arm of her chair. I interrupted Kelly to ask, “Does she need the nurse?” There was a shuffling sound as everyone turned to look. Her friend replied, “Ummm, yeah, she just threw up.” There were disgusted comments as students got up to avoid the vomit trailing down the slope of the auditorium floor. The scent of alcohol mixed with bile confirmed the girl was drunk. We asked if she’d taken anything else, but were met with silent stares. The girl passed out. Four kids carried her to the nurse. The remaining freshmen were shuttled to the theatre lobby, where Kelly and I were asked to continue our lecture. As the ambulance siren sounded in the parking lot, we attempted to revive their interest in the Elizabethans.
We should have been asking about what had just happened, but it was clear we weren’t supposed to. I’ve seen two similar instances at schools just in the past year – kids drunk in class in the middle of the day – and I’m talking about kids who were caught. Kids at the private school where I regularly teach have countless tales of drunken escapades in which they weren’t. Why aren’t we talking with kids about what their lives are like? This I believe: we should be.
Why was this girl drunk in class? Why didn’t her friends ask for help? In all of the schools I’ve visited, it’s against policy to speak directly about alcohol, drugs or sex, yet the kids want to be talking. At the end of the class period, the drunk girl’s friend approached us, crying, and said she wanted to apologize. Then she was off to her next class, where she would be expected to dry her eyes and pay attention. This I believe: drinking should be addressed in the classroom, and I’m not talking about a lesson where students are reminded that “drinking is bad for you”. I’m talking about a gossip-blasting assembly in which the kids are told exactly what happened in a given incident, exactly what the consequences are, and where they’re offered love and encouragement for speaking honestly.
How can we empower our teachers and schools to support kids in telling the truth about what’s happening for them? How can we help kids make strong choices for themselves, and encourage them to consult with adults when the need arises? Why aren’t we asking teenagers these questions? This I believe: they would give us some solid answers, if we gave them the chance.
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