Saturday, May 11, 2013

SATURDAY REWIND: Intoxicated driving no longer top killer of teen drivers, but being #2 is no merit badge

The no-kidding news this week was that texting behind the wheel is a bigger killer of teen drivers than drinking and driving. Teens killed texting and driving: 3,000. Teens killed drinking and driving: 2,700. A number of high-profile programs are aimed at avoiding crashes by stifling the distraction of the mobile phone. AT&T. AAA. The AdCouncil. All have top-of-mind messages about the texting-and-driving danger. Just because drinking and driving has slipped to the number two slot in the lethal list, does not mean it has become less hazardous... it just means more teens are tapping out messages instead of paying attention to the road.
Parents, schools and community leaders are mindful to not take the emphasis off the hazards of intoxicated driving just because a new killer has risen to the top of the list. But as the following article from my news archive points out, schools and communities have less of a role than parents in thwarting drinking and driving and underage drinking in general.

Parental involvement does more to discourage underage drinking than the school environment can, according to research released December 4 by three universities.

Specifically, the researchers looked at how “family social capital” and “school social capital” changed the chances for and/or frequency of alcohol use by children. Family social capital can be described as the bonds between parents and children, such as trust, open lines of communication and active engagement in a child’s life. School social capital captures a school’s ability to serve as a positive environment for learning, including measures such as student involvement in extracurricular activities, teacher morale and the ability of teachers to address the needs of individual students. Parenting is a better block to underage drinking than the schools, according to the North Carolina State University news release on the study.

"To be clear, school programs that address alcohol and marijuana use are definitely valuable, but the bonds parents form with their children are more important. Ideally, we can have both," says Dr. Toby Parcel, a professor of sociology at NC State and co-author of a paper on the work.

The researchers looked at data from a nationally representative sample that collected information from more than 10,000 students, as well as their parents, teachers and school administrators. The research, to be included in the quarterly Journal of Drug Issues, evaluated marijuana use and alcohol use separately.

“Parents play an important role in shaping the decisions their children make when it comes to alcohol and marijuana,” says Parcel. In both cases, researchers at NCSU (in conjunction with Brigham Young University and Penn State University) found that students with high levels of family social capital and low levels of school social capital were less likely to have used marijuana or alcohol – or to have used those substances less frequently – than students with high levels of school social capital but low family social capital.

More than 10 million American youth under the age of 21 drink alcohol, and more than a million of them are binge drinkers, according to the American Medical Association. One in four teens in the United States have consumed alcohol in the past 30 days. "Underage drinking should not be a normal part of growing up. It's a serious and persistent public health problem that puts our young people and our communities in danger," said U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) Administrator Pamela S. Hyde in a related November 26 story. "Even though drinking is often glamorized, the truth is that underage drinking can lead to poor academic performance, sexual assault, injury, and even death." Teen drinking also can lead to alcohol abuse as an adult or the disease of alcoholism.

The news headlines this week to dangers specific to teens behind the wheel, whether texting or drinking. The above article begins to address the life risks stemming from underage drinking aside from traffic accidents. Earlier this year, a Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) commissioned study (see related article) concluded that two-thirds of alcohol-related underage drinking deaths were not from traffic accidents. Thirty percent of alcohol-related deaths in people age 15 to 20 are from homicides. Fourteen percent are from suicides. Nine percent are from alcohol overdose. Other causes, such as drowning and household accidents, comprise the remaining 15 percent.

Texting and driving might be the trending topic today, but as MADD points out, “Of all the dangers teens face, underage drinking is among the worst.” And it's not just behind the wheel.