The Myth of “Safe” or “Supervised” Teen Drinking
Did you have one of those friends in high school with the “cool parents”—the parents who would allow teenagers to drink at their house or provide alcohol to drink, under the mistaken impression that it would be safer for teens to drink in the controlled environment of a house than on a street somewhere? The Texas Young Lawyers Association (TYLA) has produced an education and outreach program, The Unconscious Truth, aimed at informing adults and teens about the physical and legal effects of underage binge drinking.
For example, in terms of physical effects, there are 79,000 excessive drinking related deaths in the United States each year. In terms of legal effects, adults who invite children into their homes for “safe” or “supervised” drinking or who provide minors with alcohol could face civil and criminal liabilities including jail time. Adults and teens who fail to call for help for someone suffering from acute alcohol poisoning face similar liabilities. The Unconscious Truth educates adults and teens about these ramifications.
There are four components to The Unconscious Truth: (1) a 15-minute DVD telling the story of Shelby Allen, a real teen who died from binge drinking; (2) a video from Shelby Allen’s parents addressed to students; (3) a video from Shelby Allen’s parents addressed to other parents; and (4) an electronic myths worksheet.
The Story of Shelby
The 15-minute video is a film à clef, loosely based on the true story of a teen from California, Shelby Allen, who died after binge drinking at a friend’s party. The video begins with a Facebook party invite to teens for a house-party, where “beverages” will be provided. The party takes place at the Boyd household, where Mr. and Mrs. Boyd both want their teenage daughter, Hannah, to “be safe.” Being safe in this instance means drinking at home in a controlled environment where no one can get hurt, rather than going out and doing “who knows what.” The Boyds believe Hannah will drink regardless of what restrictions they place on her, and thus decide it is better to have Hannah and her friends drink in their home. Before the party begins, the Boyds take all the party-goers’ keys and extend an invitation for them all to sleep over so the teens do not drive home intoxicated. The Boyds eventually go to sleep, believing the party will die down.
Once the parents are asleep, however, the party escalates as the Boyds’ unlocked liquor cabinet is raided. The teens engage in various drinking games. One teen in particular, Shelby, is cheered on to drink 15 shots of vodka. Shelby becomes sick and decides to lie down, to “sleep it off.” Shelby’s teen friends are aware of her condition and let her “sleep it off.” The next morning, Hannah Boyd attempts to rouse Shelby but soon realizes her friend’s dire condition. Paramedics are called and try to resuscitate Shelby, but she dies of acute alcohol poisoning. The Boyds are arrested for criminal negligence and for furnishing alcohol to a minor. Hannah Boyd is arrested for criminally negligent homicide for failure to make a call to 911 or to render other aid despite being aware of Shelby’s condition.
The film then takes the audience through Shelby’s funeral and Hannah Boyd’s trial, where the students listen to testimony of a medical examiner who explains the signs of alcohol poisoning and how binge drinking can quickly become lethal. The testimony also debunks the various myths for treating someone who has had too much to drink. Hannah’s trial ends in a cliff-hanger over whether a jury finds Hannah guilty or not guilty of criminal negligence.
Interaction with Students
The cliff-hanger in the film serves as a starting point for a classroom discussion of the legal system and the varied possible outcomes of the case. The Unconscious Truth provides teachers with materials to facilitate a guided discussion in which students learn the various legal definitions of the possible crimes with which Hannah is charged. Students then use their deductive reasoning skills to determine whether the conduct portrayed in the video rises to meet the legal definitions of the possible crimes.
In addition, the students learn the signs of alcohol poisoning, “ Vomiting, Incoherent, Temperature, Absence of Color, Lack of response, Seizures.” Various myths about binge drinking are debunked during the guided discussion. In the example demonstrated in the video, for someone who has acute alcohol poisoning, he or she should never be left alone to “sleep it off.” The guided discussion further educates students as to the importance of calling 911 when someone exhibits the symptoms of alcohol poisoning. Finally, the discussion educates students on limited immunity laws. In Texas, for example, Senate Bill No. 1331 provides minors who possess or consume alcohol with limited immunity if they call 911 because they believe someone is a possible victim of alcohol poisoning.
Distributing the Message
The TYLA is currently in the process of bringing The Unconscious Truth to various high schools and colleges. Often, TYLA members or local Texas bar affiliates will present The Unconscious Truth to students and guide the discussion. The TYLA has already teamed with Texas Christian University to present this program to college students.
In producing The Unconscious Truth, the TYLA was particularly sensitive to ensure it did not promote underage drinking. At the same time, they knew the importance of spreading key information about the physical and legal ramifications of underage binge drinking, as well as debunking some of the myths.
With the exception of the guided discussion materials, The Unconscious Truth materials are jurisdiction-neutral and are fully adaptable to any jurisdiction. The TYLA encourages ABA YLD affiliates across the country to adopt The Unconscious Truth and will provide The Unconscious Truth materials to affiliates at no charge. Affiliates can produce similar guided discussion materials and easily implement The Unconscious Truth in their own jurisdictions. More information about how to obtain these materials can be found at www.tyla.org/tyla/index.cfm/projects/the-unconscious-truth or by contacting Brooke Ulrickson Allen, Director of District 10 for the TYLA, at email@example.com.