WASTED: Young and Using – Underage Drinking
The Parents Council of Washington hosted the annual Spring Representatives Forum at the Stone Ridge School of the Sacred Heart on the morning of Wednesday, April 18, 2012. The highlight of the Spring Forum was the guest speaker, broadcast journalist Andrea McCarren, who presented an overview of her series “WASTED: Young & Using” on WUSA-TV which focuses on underage drinking by students in the Washington, D.C. area. PCW Representatives, PA Presidents and interested parents from member schools were invited to attend. The event began with welcome remarks by Molly La Rochelle, Parents Council President, and Catherine Ronan Karrels, the Stone Ridge Head of School. Shelley Gunner, Vice President of the PCW, shared with the audience a summary of the recent Student Leader Breakfast.
On February 8, 2012, the Parents Council of Washington sponsored the tenth Student Leader Breakfast for 52 juniors and seniors representing 27 Parents Council member schools. Shelley Gunner presented a summary of the topics that were discussed by the students in both large and small group settings. Issues such as time management, the college admissions process, bullying, academic integrity and life after high school were discussed. In addition, the high school students presented their viewpoints on important issues including alcohol and drug use in area high schools and the challenges they face as they navigate social media, such as Facebook. A more complete Summary of the Student Leader Breakfast is available on the PCW website.
Following the Summary of the Student Leader Breakfast, Kristen Waksberg, PCW Board member and Spring Forum Chair, introduced the guest speaker, television journalist Andrea McCarren. The recipient of the Edward R. Murrow Award and eight Regional Emmy Awards, Ms. McCarren began her career with WUSA-TV in 1991. A graduate of Vassar and the London School of Economics, Andrea McCarren taught the first broadcast journalism course at Harvard. In addition, she has covered the Clinton Administration for ABC News and traveled extensively around the world. Recently, Ms. McCarren’s series “WASTED: Yound & Using” has focused media attention on the prevalence of underage drinking in the Washington, D.C. area.
Ms. McCarren began her remarks to the Parents Council audience by referencing research conducted by Penn State University which revealed that one out of every five teenagers binge drinks, while only one out of 100 parents believes that their teenage child binge drinks. This gap is significant and is cause for concern among parents. In some cases, underage drinking can have tragic consequences as shown in Ms. McCarren’s video entitled Desaleen’s Story which can be viewed at:http://wusa9.com/news/article/197734/435/Teen-Records-Fatal-Drunk-Driving-Crash-As-It-Happens. This heartbreaking documentary tells the story of young students who were involved in a fatal car accident because they were driving at 94 m.p.h. while under the influence of alcohol. Desaleen hopes that other teenagers will learn from her mistakes and listen to her compelling message.
As part of her investigation for her Channel 9 WUSA television series, “WASTED: Young & Using,” Ms. McCarren discovered that one Washington, D.C. retailer was frequently selling alcohol to minors. Through lengthy videotaped surveillance, Ms. McCarren witnessed students entering the Town Square Market on MacArthur Boulevard and then leaving with purchases of beer and alcohol. The license plates on the automobiles driven by the students were from D.C., Maryland and Virginia. When interviewed in the parking area, the teenagers acknowledged that they were able to purchase alcohol without providing identification proving that they were 21 years of age or older. However, when Ms. McCarren entered the store and spoke to the owner, he denied selling alcohol to minors. The owner was subsequently arrested and a trial in D.C. Superior Court is pending. The full video was shown to the Parents Council and can be viewed at: http://www.wusa9.com/news/local/story.aspx?storyid=188243.
Ms. McCarren stated that her research on this important issue indicates that 26% of high school students acquire alcohol through their parents or other family members. During a ride-along with Montgomery County Police, she was on the scene of a party in a private home where underage drinking occurred. Most of the students were 16 years of age and 35 students received citations from the police. The parents of each of the teenagers attending the party were asked to come to the location of the party to take their children home. As a result of her coverage of this incident and her series “WASTED: Young & Using,” Ms. McCarren received numerous threatening emails, some of which were forwarded to law enforcement for the protection of Ms. McCarren and her family.
The question was asked, “What can we do as parents?” to help protect our children and to encourage them to make good decisions when faced with difficult situations. Ms. McCarren suggested that attending a court proceeding involving a drunk driver and listening to Victim Impact Statements can have a meaningful impact on many teenagers. It is important for our students to fully understand the possible consequences of their actions. To conclude her remarks and to highlight a positive story, Ms. McCarren shared the video of Dillon Lewis, who was intoxicated and seriously injured in a single car accident. The video includes an interview with him at the University of Maryland Shock Trauma Center as he describes how grateful he is to have a second chance after his drunken driving accident. The video can be found at:http://www.wusa9.com/news/local/story.aspx?storyid=189287.
Following her presentation, Andrea McCarren answered questions from the Parents Council audience regarding underage drinking by students. Ms. McCarren offered suggestions for parents on how to communicate with their children as well as with other parents in their school communities. In closing, she thanked the parents for their support and for attending the Parents Council Spring Forum to discuss this important issue.