Monday, July 25, 2016

teenagers and alcohol

I do not know how many of you are from Kolkata or follow the news here but last weekend an incident has rocked the city. A group of teenage boys and girls visited a friend's house to surprise her on her birthday. The family was in bereavement and did not want any celebrations in the house. So the group moved to a club where they were not served as the club does not allow dependent (read minor) members to introduce guests. They shifted to yet another club, presumably for food and purchased three bottles of vodka from an off shop and returned to the apartment complex of the birthday girl to party there. Apparently, they hung around the parking lot, having "fun". At about 6 PM one boy of Class XII was found injured and taken to hospital where he was declared dead. This is, in essence, what I have gleaned from the newspapers I have read, i.e. "The Telegraph" and "The Times of India", (Kolkata editions) although some of the facts are contradictory. For more on the story, in case you are interested, please check online. I'm not here to discuss the events or even say I have any knowledge about the same.
I cannot even begin to imagine what the mother of the deceased child (let's just refer to him as X) is feeling. Shock, rage, desperation… she is saying it was murder, while so far reports of the witnesses suggests an accident. She last saw her son at about 10:30 AM when X told his mother he was going to a party to be thrown by friends. The papers say he was a friend of a friend or whatever, some of the boys and girls there deny knowing him. But no matter what, can you imagine the heartbroken state of the mother?
I am no detective. I do not know where the investigations will take the police or what truth will emerge from their inquiries. I guess all that will follow hopefully sooner rather than later, I don't know what will happen. But what I do know and understand is that the life of a child of Class XII has been brutally cut short, in someone's house, a son will not be returning home. Ever.
I am no detective but I am a mother. And this is exactly one of the many kinds of fear that dwells in the heart of every mother parent. Even my husband has been affected by the incident. He, who normally never talks much in the car on the way to Court was waxing eloquent about the incident today. I realised then that he is just as affected by it as I am. A few days ago I was in Bangalore for a weekend. Three of us old friends visited a bar on a Friday evening. To our shock we saw a whole lot of under-age boys and girls at the bar. At the entrance we even spotted a classmate of my friend's class XI son, my friend said a lot of them have fake IDs that their parents get them!! These minors were partying, drinking and smoking like there was no tomorrow. I remember another occasion at a club. There was some carnival going on and the place was full of teenagers, we had gone to pick up our girls. To our shock we saw 14/15 year olds drinking beer. One of my daughter's friends actually came and asked me to help as one friend was so drunk that she had passed out. On another occasion I got into a fight at the bar because I told some kids they should not enter the bar and their mother did not like it. I asked the bartenders why they serve minors. Helplessly they told me that they did not, but often the minor's own parents or older friends would buy it for them. The bearers and waiters could not go and take away their glasses, could they?
I have nothing against drinking or having fun. But there is a time and place for everything. Increasingly we hear of minors drinking. My daughters tell me of their friends who regularly smoke hookah and others who drink. A single-parent friend worries about this under-age drinking (that is so rampant in her city) so much that she makes her 16 year old son come near her and smells his breath when he returns from parties. The boy obviously does not like it and they have huge fights but she insists, even at the risk of being hated by the boy. I laughed when I heard. But now I think that's probably one of the most sensible things she does
I keep telling my girls that they should not drink or smoke until they are 21.
How do I know they listen to me? You're right, I don't.
Just as my parents did not know.
My daughters are going on 16 and 17, vulnerable enough to peer pressure and wanting to "fit in". Old enough to want to "experiment".
Do I know all their friends? Or all their friend's parents? No.
Just as my parents did not know mine.
My daughters go out for parties occasionally. They also go out with their friends.  
Do I know who else will be there? No. 
Do I know where they are going? Yes, they tell me. 
But can I monitor them all the time? No.
Just as my parents could not.
Just as X's mother could not. Just like no one can. Neither you nor me. Nor that lady across the road.
Teenagers today have access to everything, if they want it badly enough. Those kids bought three bottles of vodka. "My", I thought, when I read that, "that's a lot of money." I wondered why the shop keeper sold it to them. Then I thought maybe he did not. They simply could've gotten anyone else to buy it for them. As I said, if the will is there, there always is a way. Don't forget we are talking about a generation that believes in instant gratification, be it clothes or games or smartphones or PokemonGo. If it's out there in the virtual world, they want it. And I am not saying that that is such a bad thing. Thanks to the internet and media, the world is within their grasp. They can dream bigger than we ever dared. They can fly higher than we ever imagined. They see worlds we still cannot fathom. And these worlds also bring with them new choices that we never had to face.
So what is the way out of this? How do I keep my daughters away from alcohol until they are mature enough to handle it? How do I ensure that my girls do not walk into bars or pretend to be older than they are? How do I ensure my girls will never fall into the "wrong" crowd or do stupid, irresponsible things? How do I teach them to walk away from situations that look like they are going out of control?
You know what? I don't know.
I can only teach them the proper values and hope for the best.

That is what frightens me.


  1. You have identified an important problem. What the media sponsors on tv show as being 'cool' (drinking and partying) is what the teens see. They also see adults drinking to excess. It is worrying, but as you said, we can only hope they learn the easy way and listen to caution. Too many young people are dying too young unnecessarily. I dislike the alcoholic ads as they try to make everything seem to hinge on the social aspect. Timely post!

    1. I agree. In India Alcohol advertisements are banned. So we have Carlsburg advertising glasses and Smirnoff advertising CDs etc. But everyone knows what it is and the fact that everyone is partying and having a gala time is what leaves a lasting impression... Thanks for the comment.