“Let them blow off steam.”
“Make it forbidden, and they’ll just want it more.”
“Over my dead body would I let my teen drink in my house.”
“What’s the big deal? We drank when we were growing up. They do it now.”
“Underage drinking is illegal, so there’s no way I’m letting my teens drink.”
“They’re going to do it anyway.”
“I don’t say it’s okay; I just turn a blind eye.”
“I’m not saying yes, but I’m not saying no, either.”
“I tell them not to drink. Wink wink.”
“I tell them not to drink, but if they do, I’ll be there to drive them home, no questions asked.”
Teen drinking is a volatile issue, with many nuances. Some parents feel their kids should have the freedom to let loose, and some take a “Don’t ask, don’t tell” attitude, while others want to reign their kids in more tightly. Still others are opposed to underage drinking—period, end of story.
Nothing illustrates these dichotomies better than the story of Andrea McCarren, a reporter for WUSA-TV in Washington, D.C. who dared to do a series on underage drinking.
In one part of the series, she exposed a liquor store that was selling alcohol to teens. In another, she reported on an underage drinking party in Bethesda, Maryland, an affluent suburb of DC, where nearly three dozen teens were busted by the police.
As soon as the series ran, McCarren received threats, as did her kids, at school and via Facebook. McCarren was branded, on Facebook, “probably the MOST hated woman in the D.C. area.” Another Facebook post falsely announced an underage drinking party at McCarren’s home. She was so disturbed that her children were being harassed that she went off the air for a week until things calmed down, handing her series over to a fellow reporter to finish.
I can understand the teens being upset, since she gave away their source for booze. But many of the threats came from adults–the parents of these kids. When the parents arrived to pick up their teens from the party that got busted, the parents weren’t angry at their kids—they were mad at the policemen and especially at McCarren.
My feelings about teen drinking are mixed—I’m of the forbidden-fruit-just-makes-something-more-appealing-but-then-again-I-don’t-want-my-kids-to-drink school of thought–but I still think McCarren was treated unfairly. She should have the right to report on something that’s happening in our society, as long as she protects the identities of the teens involved. As for the liquor store owner, since he was doing something illegal, his identity wasn’t protected.
This story hit close to home for me, because I grew up in Bethesda, and I remember the exact stores everyone went to if they wanted to buy booze; I remember the D.C. bars that let my sister in when she was in eighth, ninth and tenth grade on. I was a non-drinker myself, so I didn’t buy the booze or go to the bars, but still, I knew. Everyone did. Teen drinking hasn’t changed much over the years.
What’s changed is the public awareness, and the expectation that parents will prevent their own teens, and other teens, from drinking. When I was growing up, I don’t remember parties getting busted for underage drinking. If a party was busted, it was because the music was too loud, and the neighbors complained.
What this case showed me is this: Teen drinking is here to stay, and it may be one of those unresolveable issues. I think it’s unfair that a parent who wants to host an alcohol-free party for their teen can get arrested if someone sneaks alcohol in, but the bottom line is this: McCarren has the right to free speech, and it’s something that should be discussed in both public and private forums. Threatening someone to keep quiet is scary and only keeps the issues simmering underground. Better to face them head on, even if that means an open debate.