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Partying With My Parents

My parents' goal for their two kids was not to practice the unrealistic mission of abstinence, but to keep us safe. In this regard they were incredibly successful.
 
 
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Friday night – four guys, four girls, a case of beer and some wine coolers. My guy friends and I are 17 years old and the girls are 15.  We are sitting on couches, listening to Bob Marley and playing the drinking game "quarters."

The goal is to bounce a quarter into a cup. If you make it, you can pick the person who has to drink. If you miss twice in a row, you have to drink. After a few hours of fun and games, the music and the laughter is getting louder and louder. Without warning, the light in the room flicks on and off. All of the laughing stops and there is silence. I tell everyone to chill and walk outside of the shed, across my backyard, up to my parents' bedroom window.

My dad opens the window to his room and tells me, "Keep it down out there."

"OK, Daddy, we will," I assure him.

I return to the shed, smile at my friends and say, "Turn the music down." The guys have been here before and know the routine. One of the girls who is at the shed for the first time can't believe that my parents are just a few feet away in the house.

My parents did know that we – Weasel, Z, Buddo, the new crew of girls that we were starting to hang with, and I – were drinking in the shed. They understood that my friends and I, along with half of my high school classmates, had consumed alcohol and tried marijuana. Although they would have preferred that we didn't drink alcohol or smoke marijuana, they had decided that it was better to have us safe in the backyard where they could keep track of us, instead of having us drive home from a party across town or drink in public.

During my teenage years in Santa Cruz, Calif. I always appreciated my parents for allowing me and my friends to have a shed in the backyard. Neighborhood kids spent thousands of hours in that shed. We would meet there after surfing. We would meet there before going out on the weekend. We would take our dates there.  

But it is only now, 15 years later, that I understand and respect how brave and protective my parents' actions were. I say brave because my parents were breaking the law and could have been arrested for allowing teenagers to drink at their house.  I say protective because they knew that having us in the backyard kept us from the much more risky activity of drinking and driving around town like so many other teens. In addition to allowing us to party in my backyard, my parents made it clear that my friends and I could always call them for a ride home from a party. They preferred a call from a drunk teenager asking for a ride home over a drunk teenager driving his drunk friends all over town.

While most parents hope that their teenagers will not drink alcohol or smoke marijuana, the reality is that 80 percent of high school seniors will have tried alcohol by the time they graduate, and 50 percent will have tried marijuana. "Just Say No" is a nice slogan, but not a sufficient strategy for protecting our children. Despite millions of dollars of scare tactic ads telling kids that smoking pot will fry their brains like an egg, half of 18-year-olds will end up "Just Saying Sometimes" or "Just Saying Yes."

My parents' goal for their two kids was not to practice the unrealistic mission of abstinence, but to keep us safe. In this regard, they were incredibly successful. Their two kids never got into trouble with the law and never got into an accident or a fight that involved alcohol. We learned how to drink in a way that didn't lead to injury to others or to ourselves.

I am at a place in my life where I hope to start a family. I am thankful for the wisdom and example of my parents. I look forward to talking honestly and openly with my children about alcohol and drugs in a way that will, most importantly, keep them as safe as possible.

Tony Newman is communications director for the Drug Policy Alliance . For more information on how to keep teens safe, visit www.safety1st.org.