Under the influence

  • By Alexis Bacharach Enterprise editor
  • Thursday, April 3, 2008 3:28pm

His parents’ cries for help — his brother’s drunken fits in the room next door: these were the sounds of Josh Ogden’s childhood.

“Every day, I saw my mother cry; I saw my father cry,” the 15-year-old high school sophomore said. “It was terrible what my brother’s alcoholism did to our family, and I’ll never drink because of it, not even when I’m 21.”

Ogden thinks about his brother often — every time his classmates brag about the beers they chugged or the shots they downed at a late-night party.

Nearly 50 percent of high school seniors questioned in a national survey at the beginning of the school year reported using alcohol at least once in the previous 30 days.

Twenty-five percent of high school students — grades 10-12 — reported riding in car with a drunk driver on more than one occasion.

Adults cringe at these statistics, but Ogden — who addressed a small crowd of parents and community members at Jackson High School on March 27 — wasn’t at all surprised by the survey results regarding underage drinking.

“Honestly, I think it’s a way bigger problem than parents realize,” he said. “You hear students talking all the time about partying with their friends. They all have fake IDs or know someone older who’s willing to buy them alcohol.”

Thursday’s event sponsored by the by the Washington State Coalition to Reduce Underage Drinking (WSCRUD) featured six panelists, including Ogden, all of whom had some experience with teenage drug and alcohol use.

“I was a little surprised when they asked me to speak here tonight,” panelist Bobbie Bawyn said. “It’s not as if my daughter, who used to be a student here at Jackson, was a great role model for abstaining.”

Bawyn recalled a time not so long ago when her daughter came home from school and lectured her for drinking a single glass of wine with dinner.

“She was the girl who thought drinking was disgusting,” Bawyn said. “That all changed when she started high school.”

No one could have convinced her 10 years ago that her child might someday have a problem with drugs and alcohol.

Bawyn ran a tight ship. She worked at a school so her daughters would never come home to an empty house. She encouraged their involvement in athletics and other extracurricular activities.

“There was no way my girls would ever face that kind of problem,” she said, shaking her head. “But I pushed too hard … my daughter had good grades; she played varsity sports her freshman year in high school. Her grades started to slip and pretty soon she just stopped going to school.”

High school students are under tremendous pressure to fit in socially, succeed academically, get into college and chart their goals for the future.

They use alcohol to numb their pain and anxiety, Jackson principal Terry Cheshire said.

“We need to work together — parents, police and community — to eliminate this problem,” he added. “Communication is key.”

Jackson High School has the most drug busts of any school in the Everett School District.

But drug and alcohol use is prevalent among students in every high school — public or private, Cheshire said.

He was struck by how few people showed up to discuss perhaps the biggest threat to the safety and well being of young people nationwide.

“We’ve been outraged by recent reports in the news of animal cruelty. Where’s the outrage with what’s happening with our youth and drugs and alcohol?” He asked. “As big as this problem is, it’s very disappointing we see so few people at these discussions.”

According to the WSCRUD, 40 percent of children who use alcohol before they’re 14 will become alcoholics.

“Just hammering these kids and suspending them from school is not the answer,” Cheshire said.

It certainly wasn’t the answer for Ogden’s brother.

“My parents grounded him. They tried to lock him away in his bedroom — no TV, no phone, no internet, nothing,” Ogden said. “All that did was push him farther away from our family and deeper into his alcoholism.”

Bawyn agreed, urging parents to focus more attention on their children’s successes “really emphasize the good things; celebrate the things that are going right with your kids. Had I thought about that when my daughter started getting in trouble, it might have made all the difference.”

Instead, Bawyn turned to discipline — restriction from friends and other privileges. Her daughter retreated farther and farther away, and started abusing other drugs in addition to alcohol.

“We had arson attacks on our house twice,” Bawyn said. “I can only guess they were somehow related to the people my daughter was getting drugs from. It’s hard to think about my younger daughter having to witness all of this.”

Mill Creek police officer and panelist Bart Foutch shared horror stories about his run-ins with drunk teenagers — rape, car accidents, vandalism, the list went on and on. He couldn’t count the number of times he’s picked up young people walking drunk along the Bothell-Everett Highway or hot-tubbing half-naked at any one of the local apartment complexes between midnight and 5 a.m.

“The worst part is, when I call their parents,” Foutch said. “Most of the time, they have no idea that their kids are even missing. The message here is: keep track of your kids.”

His advice to parents echoed that of the other panelists.

“Forcing your own goals and expectations on these kids — locking them up — is a recipe for disaster,” Foutch said. “Encourage them to be the best at whatever it is they want to do. Encourage them to be independent thinkers, ‘you don’t have to follow the crowd; you don’t have to go to the party, and, if you do, you don’t have to drink.”

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