Health and Safety Consequences
Adolescents are already going through a period where their under-developed pre-frontal cortex creates impulsivity, poor decision making, lack of consequential fore-sight and behavioral boundaries. When an alcoholic haze is added to this, it’s a recipe for disaster. Underage drinking can lead to risky sexual behaviors, alcohol poisoning, other drug use, driving while impaired and accidental injuries and death. Alcohol consumption also increases the likelihood of violent behavior increasing homicides, physical violence, sexual assaults and suicide. The choices an adolescent makes while impaired can have short and long term consequences and can be life altering.
How Officers Can Make a Difference
With the myriad of consequences underage drinking has, law enforcement professionals must view this issue as a high-priority. By treating calls involving underage drinking as serious and taking each opportunity to educate and mentor adolescents, officers can potentially change the course of a young life. As juvenile justice professionals, we can help in the fight against underage drinking by being aware, recognizing signs of a youth at risk and knowing what resources are available to assist the child and his or her family. Officers who interact with adolescents can be honest and outright about the affects of drinking when communicating with youth. Talk to them about how choosing not to drink is a sign of maturity and responsibility. Teach them realistic ways to say no in a situation involving peer pressure. Remind them that not everyone drinks and that it’s okay to wait until their older to do so. They aren’t missing out on anything. Form partnerships with other trusted adults, such as parents, community leaders, teachers and those in ministry. The more consistent a youth’s message is the more likely they are to follow the advice. If you are called to a party involving young drinkers, take it seriously and reflect to the child’s parents or guardians that this is not just a legal issue. Offer support and resources if you can. We can make a difference in many ways by holding youth and their guardians responsible for their health and safety. So, next time you get called to a teen party don’t look at it as a waste of time but recognize it as a chance to possibly save a life.