“Have I, have you, been too silent? Is there an easy crime of silence?” – Carl Sandburg
In November, Dictionary.com announced its word of the year for 2017 was “complicit” and wrote it “has sprung up in conversations this year about those who speak out against powerful figures and institutions and about those who stay silent.”
Complicit is defined as “choosing to be involved in an illegal or questionable act, especially with others; having partnership or involvement in wrongdoing.”
They also wrote that complicity — or the refusal to be complicit — was pertinent to some of the biggest news topics of the year, from politics to anthem protests by NFL players to the #MeToo movement.
I’ve been pondering this word over the last couple of months, not for the reasons they chose it, but in regards to underage drinking.
Why are so many adults so complicit when it comes to this?
Responses I’ve heard include “they’re just being young and dumb” or “I did it when I was their age and turned out just fine.”
I served on a mental health taskforce in Nodaway County several years ago that also focused on underage drinking.
One of the things I learned was that teen brains are not fully formed until age 25 or even later. In recent years, more research has been done on this subject.
According to the University of Rochester Medical Center: “Adult and teen brains work differently. Adults think with the prefrontal cortex, the brain’s rational part. This is the part of the brain that responds to situations with good judgment and an awareness of long-term consequences. Teens process information with the amygdala. This is the emotional part.”
The American Psychological Association, American Psychiatric Association and National Association of Social Workers, in a 2012 brief to the Supreme Court, wrote: “It is increasingly clear that adolescent brains are not yet fully mature in regions and systems related to higher order executive functions such as impulse control, planning ahead and risk avoidance.”
I’m not giving teens a pass when it comes to underage drinking because their brains aren’t fully developed. I believe we can expect more from them than “they’re just being young and dumb.”
But as Meredith Wadman, MD, wrote in the Washington Post, “Kids will be kids so parents must be parents.”
“I don’t buy the argument that advises adults to wink and nod at underage drinking because it’s going to happen regardless. It’s not true that the attitudes of adults, and their seriousness about laws and rules, have no influence on teenagers’ drinking habits.”
She cited the College Alcohol Study at the Harvard School of Public Health which spent eight years studying more than 50,000 students at 120 colleges.
They concluded that students drink more on campuses that have a strong drinking culture, few alcohol-control policies and weak enforcement. They also found that few students engage in binge drinking at some colleges while 80 percent of students reported binge drinking at others.
“Don’t tell me that college policies and cultures — in other words, the tone set by those in authority on campus — have nothing to do with these disparities,” she wrote.
Wadman also looked at the University of Florida which was once known as a top party school before administrators adopted measures that included mandating alcohol education for freshmen and banning alcohol advertising at concerts and sports events. The binge-drinking rate dropped from 57 to 38 percent in four years.
Administrators and students at the University of Virginia created a high-profile marketing campaign to combat underage drinking. In the 10-year period that followed, there was a 33 percent decrease in binge drinking, an 81 percent decline in drinking and driving and a 76 percent drop in alcohol-related injuries among students.
Wadman used the word “parents” in her article, but I believe all adults need to step up to help combat this issue. Sadly, not everyone has involved parents. And even then, none of us can be there at every moment in our child’s lives, especially, for example, single parents working two and three jobs to support their families or those with other circumstances and challenges.
“If you see something, say something” has been a campaign by the Department of Homeland Security in recent years to help combat terrorism. I think it’s great advice to combat underage drinking as well.
It can take a lot of courage to speak up sometimes. We can be afraid of the consequences that might come in doing so. But potentially saving lives should be more important than backlash.
Mahatma Gandhi said, “Silence becomes cowardice when occasion demands speaking out the whole truth and acting accordingly.”
This is a serious problem that needs all of our courageous voices speaking out.
So if you see something, please say something.