By Elizabeth Scott
When I was doing research for my young adult novel, Love You Hate You Miss You, I read a lot about teens and drinking, or, more specifically, teen girls and drinking.
Now, here’s the thing: teens, including teen girls, have been drinking since my parents were teenagers (which was in the Dark Ages). Certainly in the very rural area where I grew up, there were few things to do on the weekends but drink.
So teenage girls drinking isn’t anything new, but what does seem to be fairly new is *how* teenage girls drink.
Obviously, this doesn’t apply to all teenage girls–for every girl who drinks, you’ll find one or more who doesn’t. But for now, I’m going to talk about teen girls who do drink.
What’s happened over the past several years has been an upswing in the amount that teenage girls drink when they are drinking. There are many theories as to why, but I think a lot of it comes down to how much pressure girls face today. Not only are they expected to be beautiful and thin, they must also be smart, athletic, have an active social life, and participate in as many extracurricular activities as possible. And, of course, it never hurts to be popular.
And while girls juggle all this, they also have to deal with the intricacies of high school life, which is not for the faint- hearted. It used to be that you’d go to school and maybe talk to your friends after school or on the phone at night (how I used to envy people with their own phone line!) but now, if you have a cell, you can talk to anyone any time and anywhere. And while being able to keep in touch is great, it also adds another layer of things to do to a teen girl’s already busy day.
Juggling the jungle that is high school, along with planning for your future–at a time when you’re usually faced with a curfew and other parental restrictions, plus whatever rules the school feels like throwing your way–is overwhelming.
Teen girls are expected to be powerhouses–to know what they want, to know how to get it, and to be and do everything they possibly can to be their best, or, better yet, be even better than everyone else. (Although, if that should happen, you must never ever brag about it– being humble is also part of being a teenage girl.)
So is it any wonder that when teen girls do drink now, they drink a lot–and quickly? Drinking is a central nervous system depressant, but it also lowers inhibitions, and gives girls an outlet–as strange as it may sound–to relax. When you’re drunk–and if you’re really drunk–you don’t think about everything you’re facing, if only because you simply can’t.
The first thing many people want to do is stop teenage girls from drinking. I don’t think that’s a realistic goal, if only because some teenagers are more than likely to drink no matter what, but I do think that seeing a downturn in the number of girls who drink enormous amounts of alcohol would most definitely be a good thing.
However, more than that, what needs to be addressed is the underlying problem that leads to this increased drinking–and that is, quite simply, it’s virtually impossible to be a teenage girl today.
You may remember your teenage years with fondness or bitterness, and although a lot of things about being a teenager haven’t changed, one of the things that has is how much pressure girls face to do and be everything–and to keep in touch with everything that’s going on and everyone they know. And while teenage girls should certainly be encouraged to realize that they are smart and special and amazing–it should also be stressed that they don’t have to do everything and be everything in order to matter.
You don’t have to be perfect, and that is what frightens me the most–that so many teenage girls believe that they do, and chasing perfection–well, that’s what you’ll do. You’ll keep chasing it, because no one is perfect. And when you want to be perfect, or worse, are expected to be, it creates a lot of problems– and as some teen girls have discovered, one way to escape those problems is to drink as much as you can as fast as you can.
I don’t feel it’s my job to tell anyone what to think or do, but I will say this: remember when you were 15, 16, 17? Remember how intense everything was, and how your whole life was just waiting for the next day, the next thing, everything? Now add in about 1000X more pressure, and you’ll see what today’s teen girls are dealing with.
Could you handle that?
I know I couldn’t.
Elizabeth Scott grew up in a town so small it didn’t even have a post office, though it did boast an impressive cattle population. Now she lives just outside Washington, DC with her husband, and firmly believes you can never own too many books, and would love it if you visited her website, located at http://www.elizabethwrites.com.