The presentation, which included a statistics-filled slide show on the links between underage drinking and later substance addiction, was followed shortly with an address by High School Principal Mario Bye. The night was the first installment in the school’s broader approach to combat underage drinking, and drinking and driving, among local young people. Bye said the presentation was intended for parents, but that students would be addressed the next day in school with a “hard to watch” video followed by small discussion groups.
The speaker, Terry Wilt, from the Travis County Attorney’s Underage Drinking and Driving Program, punctuated his talk on statistics and specific strategies with anecdotes from his own experience raising a teenage daughter in a school environment where many students drink.
The statistics, which were taken from the National Center for Addiction and Substance Abuse, included that nine out of 10 Americans who meet the medical standard for addiction began smoking, drinking or using other drugs before age 18. Those who use any addictive substance, such as alcohol, before age 15 are six and a half times more likely to become addicted than those who wait until they are 21 or older. And more than 40 percent of America’s teens can buy marijuana within a day, and 20 percent within an hour or less.
Wilt said parents can look for certain signs and symptoms that their children might be getting involved with the “wrong sort of friends.” And the “wrong sorts” can be crucial in a young adult’s likelihood to be offered substances. If they are dropping old friends and getting new ones, borrowing money unusually, or have declining grades, he said, it might be time to talk to them to set clear and honest limits, or to discuss ways that they might respond if offered drugs or alcohol.
Parents should also be involved with their child’s life and set regular time together, such as family dinners. Fathers, too, he said, should be intimately involved, and that too often they feel that they do not want to go to “ballets or choir practices.”
Bye said that he particularly appreciated an example Welt mentioned as a possible “escape route” for young adults seeking to turn down substances without losing face in front of their peers. Some parents had set up text codes with their children, such that the child could text an “x” or another sign to their parent, who would then call with a pre-planned “emergency” so the child could leave the situation with an excuse.
Bye also said that he understands the situation students face at the high school. He, too, as a young person was offered substances, which he said he never accepted. “I know it happens everywhere. I don’t think, ‘oh, it can’t happen here,’” he said.
Tuesday’s presentation came out of a decision by the administration earlier this year to turn down an offer to host a Shattered Dreams event, an anti-drunk driving program that features graphic imagery and dramatic re-enactments of car crashes. Bye and other administrative staff members, on the counsel of their school social workers and psychologists, turned down the program out of concern for its potential to cause undue stress on students with first-hand experience of the carnage possible with drunk driving, when these methods would not necessarily convince them.
Wilt, who has worked with many Shattered Dreams programs, said that what is shocking can cause students to remember particular stories, but that alone does not necessarily motivate a shift in decision making.
While Tuesday night was for parents, Bye said, a video would be shown to students during their advisory period on Wednesday, which would be followed with small group discussion questions. The video, created almost entirely by members of the Student Council, features an interview between Bye and a local mother who lost two of her children to a drunk driver two years ago.
A tearful Crystal Draper says in the video that on that night, she and her four children had gone out to pick up dinner. The last thing she remembers was waiting to make a turn into her subdivision off US Hwy. 183. A drunk driver plowed into the back of their car and, in addition to killing two of her children, Koby and Kirsten Draper, also put her younger son in a motorized wheelchair.