The Dryden Observer

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Learning the hard way

It’s been about a year since I struck the match that began the Dryden Observer’s Reckless Revival – A Series on Youth Drinking and Impaired Driving. It began right here as I questioned the wisdom of local pre-graduation public service announcement warning parents who host parties where underage drinking is happening that a $200,000 fine and a year in prison awaited them.

Twelve months later, I’d say that my views on the matter are much less solid than when I began. That’s the thing about digging deep into many different perspectives on an issue — while they may vary widely, they all sort of make sense depending on the circumstances in which we live.

We heard from impaired drivers with multiple convictions who were trying to put their lives back together and come to terms with the debilitating consequences of their actions. We talked to addiction counselors who spoke on the process of social normalization of underage drinking and even impaired driving in the culture.

We talked to parents who agonized over playing a supervisory role in their kids’ underage drinking in an effort to mitigate the inherent dangers as well as those who struggle to keep their kids away from parties, at the risk of great strain to the parent-child relationship.

We heard from the kids themselves: gleefully unrepentant and largely unconcerned with ‘the problem’ that their generation inherited. How does this irreverence, this open disregard of the law sit with you?

Were you any different when you were 17 or 18? I am surely not without sin.

If any wisdom at all was gleaned from shining this flashlight into the bonfire-lit gravel pits of Northwestern Ontario culture, it is that the inconsistency in our values plays a significant role in perpetuating ‘the problem’.

How many of us are willing to ‘walk our talk’, or even ‘talk the talk’ when it comes to alcohol for that matter, knowing as we do, how sensitive teens are to hypocrisy.

We are not some homogenous colony bound by strict standards of an agreed upon moral code — we fall all over the spectrum as to what constitutes right and wrong (within the law).As adults and parents we’ve spent our lives growing more comfortable not caring what other people think, but for youth, the pressure to conform to parts of the social code can be problematic in ways we’ve happily forgotten about.

We have our laws, but the law often fails us in examples like the one I led with, I think — seeking to punish adults who are often acting in the interests of mitigating risk to youth engaged in dangerous behaviour. The law remains a rather blunt tool to apply to a nuanced problem for people in a very disorienting time of their life, but it seems like it’s all we’ve got.

The great tragedy of alcohol-related deaths and trauma is that each previous generation seems to have earned a grudging respect for the law by observing first-hand the chaos, destruction and oblivion suffered by their friends, schoolmates and whatever innocent people get swept up in the maelstrom.

Is that simply the way of things? A price to be paid to cruel fate? — Chris Marchand

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