Are Parents to Blame for College Binge Drinking?
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Are Parents to Blame for College Binge Drinking?


Are Parents to Blame for College Binge Drinking?The first time I got drunk was in the aftermath of a “hurricane party” at my friend’s house in 10th grade. Her parents had passed out so we helped ourselves to the leftover blended strawberry daiquiris. The adults were asleep, but it wouldn’t have mattered if they weren’t because they were “cool parents.” I conjured this memory after reading a recent opinion piece in The Atlantic by Caitlin Flanagan. In it, she dissects the role modern parenting has in college kids’ binge drinking and aptly names two types of parents: “Get-Real Parents” and “Good Parents.” My hurricane party pal’s mom and dad were definitely “Get-Reals.”

Parental Evolution

The author laments growing up in the 1970s, when parents sort of accepted that, at some point in a child’s teendom, they’d lose control of what he or she was doing. If a kid was starting to experiment with booze, drugs or the opposite sex, there was a sense of detachment. Because of this, the choice of whether or not to let them drink at home “because they’re going to do it anyway” wasn’t even on the table. Nowadays, it’s quite the opposite. “Professional-class parents and their children are tightly bound to each other in the relentless pursuit of admission to a fancy college…replicating the social class across a generation is a joint project,” Flanagan writes.

As someone who grew up a couple decades later than Flanagan and was incidentally raised by the professional-class demographic of parents she speaks of, I can attest to her theory. I was in high school right at the turn of the century. There were certain parents of classmates at my private high school in southern Alabama who could imagine nothing more horrific than their son or daughter not pledging a certain frat or sorority at a prestigious undergraduate university, then going to a distinguished graduate school and joining the family law/medical/accounting practice. They were also the parents that could be considered “Get-Reals”—who knew their 16-year-old daughter was taping a flask to her leg under her prom dress—but willfully looked the other way. As long as they knew she was doing it and accepted that kids will be kids, they could sort of keep tabs, right?

They were the same ones Flanagan summarizes as preferring their baby girl learn how to puke up liquor in the safe confines of their living room than a dank frat basement.

They’re also often the ones who make that stupid-ass European argument. My mom loves to tell the story of the mother of the token German girl in my class speaking up at PTA meetings when the topic of underage drinking arose. She said, “In Europe, we just let the children have wine so they won’t want to rebel as much doing it outside of the home.” We were still in middle school then, so a lot of the parents were still aligned in the “Good Parent” group and, according to my mother, horrified by that statement. And as the author and many others have ascertained from the Euro argument: “You can teach a young person to enjoy a glass of good wine with dinner, but this will not be a protective factor when it comes to binge drinking.” After all, kids these days see enjoying a glass of wine with dinner as totally separate from (for lack of a better term) getting fucked up. But as The Atlantic story validates, most ‘rents who begrudged that German mom gradually made their way over to the “Get-Real” side of the fence the closer we got to college.

Uptight ‘Rents Are a Dying Breed

The “Good Parents” are seen as a dying breed, and usually in the minority by the time a class of kids gets to 12th grade. Flanagan theorized, “Good Parents think that alcohol is dangerous for young people and that riotous drunkenness and its various consequences have nothing to recommend them. These parents enforce the law and create a family culture that supports their beliefs.”

My best friend Kathryn had a set of Good Parents. Her mom refused to let us and our dates go to another girls’ pre-Spring Dance party in 11th grade because she knew there probably wouldn’t be adults present and there definitely would be underage drinking. We were so upset in that dramatic teen way because everyone else got to go. But I’ll never forget her attempt to play into our inner good kid conscious by saying, “Sometimes if you want to stand up for what’s right, you have to stand alone.” Maybe if I’d taken that lesson to college, I wouldn’t have wasted so many of my pre-21 years getting underage drunk out of my gourd.

In high school, my parents sort of straddled the fence of “Get-Real and “Good” but the minute I turned 18 and went off to college, they were cool with me drinking. They, like most, think The National Minimum Drinking Age Act—the one that made it illegal to drink before 21 is ludicrous. In fact, The Atlantic piece confirms: a lot of American society blames college binge drinking culture on that law. In actuality, overall drinking rates of 18-to-21-year-olds have gone down since the law passed in 1984. But that could just be thanks to more kids smoking pot and taking pills.

Party Like a Rich Kid

The bad news? The colleges kids who are still drinking despite not meeting the legal age requirement, are just drinking more heavily. According to Flanagan, the ones boozing it up the most are the privileged kids, or as she wrote, “The children of white, college-educated parents, young people whose free time is probably spent not working to help support themselves, but rather participating in certain activities, most notably Greek life and athletics.”

I can, again, attest to the truth. I went to a school full of privileged white kids (myself included) and the older girls in my sorority straight-up hazed us into black-out drinking and taught us songs to glorify it. They also taught us songs promoting hand jobs in public places, so God knows why I took any of it to heart. The point is, we were supposed to be able to do all this crazy drinking (which was sort of dutifully accepted by our parents) but still make good grades, volunteer, stay in shape and be primed for a fancy grad school.

Meanwhile, as Flanagan sadly unveils, under-privileged students on campus have to be weary of having a sip too much because as history has proven, their drunken antics could land them in a lot hotter, prejudice-laced water than the average Caucasian guy in the snobby frat whose Dad donated enough money to have a building on campus named after him.

Why Keep Condoning the Debauchery?

These “Get-Real” parents supposedly want their kids to succeed. So why are they silently condoning the massive consumption of alcohol at such a young age? There has to be some accountability or sense of right and wrong, even if the rules seem ridiculous and even though we are soo over morals in the 21st century. If I were a parent today, I’d emphasize how much freaking time my kid will have to drink after they turn 21, where’s the fire? I’d also say, you are not in the lucky gene pool when it comes to metabolizing alcohol. So, to my future kid, good luck out there; you definitely aren’t drinking in my house.

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About Author

Mary Patterson Broome has written for After Party Magazine, Women's Health Magazine Online, AOL, WE TV and Mashed. She has been performing stand-up comedy at clubs, colleges, casinos, and festivals for over a decade.


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