Tag Archives: risk

Guest Post: Breathalyzer tests used for teens in an effort to curb drunk driving

Risk Within Reason is pleased to feature this guest post by attorney and journalist Pari Chang.

Did you know that underage drinkers are responsible for between 10% and 20% of all alcohol consumed during the Christmas and New Year holiday period? Also, 21- to 24-year-olds repeatedly make up the highest percentage of impaired drivers.

Statistics like these have prompted initiatives by parents and school officials to administer Breathalyzer tests to young people. “Remember the debate over whether school nurses should distribute condoms? Now it’s: We know they drink, but what message does it send if schools give Breathalyzer tests?” says Mark Defino, a parent in Steamboat Springs, Colorado. School officials there have been testing kids for alcohol before school dances and proms since 2007.

Attorney Daniel R. Rosen, whose firm handles auto accident cases, adds, “Besides the moral implications, it’s a matter of balancing the privacy rights of students against controlling drinking and driving.”

The debate over Breathalyzer-testing our youth rages across the country. In the Pequannock school district in New Jersey, it began in 2006 and hasn’t stopped. That year, at a Pequannock school dance, 40% to 50% of the kids arrived under the influence of alcohol. A survey of 400 juniors and seniors taken during that school year revealed that 219 students had used alcohol in the previous 30 days.

Pequannock school officials decided to rely on Breathalyzers to keep the students honest. The district implemented a program that warned students; they could be tested for alcohol up to 80 
hours after they have consumed it. If a student had a drink on Friday, it would be evident on a test on Monday. Since that program began, the number of juniors and seniors consuming alcohol has decreased by 37%.

I commend the district for having the courage to take action instead of waiting for a tragedy,” says Lacy Link, an educator in Northern New Jersey whose district is considering a similar program. She notes that many parents support the program. “Some have purchased breath alcohol ignition interlock devices of their own,” she says. Breath alcohol ignition interlock devices (BAIID) are designed to prevent an individual from operating a motor vehicle while under the influence of alcohol. The result is peace of mind for parents by reducing the likelihood that their teenagers will be arrested for drunk driving or be involved in a near-fatal or fatal drunk-driving accident.

But Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) presses a less controversial approach.  MADD advocates teaching kids to say no when peers urge them to engage in underage drinking. They encourage parents to inform their teenagers, and the statistics support their approach: Teen alcohol use kills about 6,000 people each year, more than all illegal drugs combined.

One in three eighth-grade students has tried alcohol. One in five teens binge drinks, but only one in 100 parents believes their child binge drinks. Seventy-four percent of kids (ages 8-17) said their parents are the leading influence on their decisions about drinking.  Having regular family conversations about alcohol can reduce underage drinking and drunkenness by 30-60%. When parents and kids are better connected, kids are less likely to drink or use other drugs.

To help parents tackle this tough issue, MADD provides a parent handbook on its website and arranges community workshops. Around the holidays, it’s particularly difficult to curb teen drinking and driving, not only because kids let loose after exams, but because of capitalism, straight up.

Barron H. Lerner, M.D., Professor of Medicine and Public Health at Columbia University Medical Center and author of the book One for the Road: Drunk Driving Since 1900, notes that the alcohol industry has opposed many anti-drunk driving measures by enthusiastically promoting the phrase “responsible drinking” in public campaigns while opposing legislation aimed at deterring drinking and driving. Plus, beer companies, in particular, continue to advertise heavily and promote events on college campuses.

Teenage drinking and driving statistics are alarming, but parents are not without resources. The best resource is sharing yourself, and speaking from the heart, without judgment. No Breathalyzer test is a substitute for an open and honest conversation with a young person about taking responsibility for their actions. When young people feel they are heard and affirmed, constructive change can happen.

Pari Chang is an attorney and professional journalist with writing credits that include The New York Times, SELF, and Glamour.

RiskWithinReason turns 1! Celebrate with a look back at the most popular posts

life is risky

It’s been an entire year since I sat down at my computer, stared out the window into the back garden and thought “I’m going to start a blog today.”

A lot of topic ideas had been churning around in my head, borne out of my different experiences: raising three tween and pre-teen daughters, teaching about youth, media and popular culture at Concordia University, doing research on teen high-risk issues at McGill and writing about parenting for Montreal Families Magazine. I wanted a place where I could write informally and speak directly to my readers. A place where I could quickly put out short bits information on articles or papers that got me thinking. A space to be creative in a non-fiction kind of way.

I wish I could say I plotted out my ideas on some spreadsheet, or drew up a business plan, or made sure I had several blog posts in draft form at all times. But I didn’t. I just down and wrote my first post. Just like that.

The blog that became the RiskWithinReason website that grew into a consulting business just sort of grew organically over time. Friends offered advice and encouragement. Montreal Families Magazine picked it up as a featured blog. A wonderful new friend helped me import the WordPress archive into a self-hosted website (thank you again Michelle Skamene!). And I began to get more and more calls to do workshops on topics of importance to me: preventing high-risk behaviours, keeping kids safe online, bullying prevention.

I’m so proud of the way RiskWithinReason has grown this year. And it’s clear I have my readers to thank – most of my traffic comes from Facebook, Twitter and forum shares. I feel a twinge of pride and gratitude from every subscription, share notification, comment, email and workshop request that comes my way. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. I mean it. Please keep them coming!

And finally, to mark the very first anniversary of RiskWithinReason, the following is a list of the five most popular blog posts I’ve published. If you’d like to read the full post, click on the link in the title:

-1- Never touch a wet butterfly: Dr. JoAnn Deak on girls, self-esteem & intelligence:

When a butterfly first pokes through the shell of its chrysalis, its wings are wet. The arduous physical transformation from a caterpillar leaves it temporarily vulnerable to the waiting world, not-quite-a-butterfly until it dries off and flies away. We are warned never to touch this beautiful creature in this most fragile state, for its wings will be permanently ruined, and it will never learn to fly.

-2- Bullying: Some New facts and Figures

There’s a lot of information in the media and on the social web about bullying, but it’s hard to get a sense of what the facts are. Is bullying really an epidemic? Is it a growing problem, or simply and old problem gaining new, widespread recognition? How is bullying today different than it used to be?

-3- Teaching kids good coping strategies to build resilience

Why do some kids grow up in two-parent homes with all the apparent support and advantages a child could need, yet still end up making poor choices that lead them to problems with drugs, alcohol or other high-risk behaviors? Conversely, why do some kids come from broken homes, dysfunctional families or communities dealing with alcohol and drugs, and yet are still able to resist the pull of these activities?

-4- Alone together: How technology competes for our attention (and wins)

You know that moment when our children pour out of school at pickup looking for their parents? How they scan the crowd to make eye contact with the mom or dad who actually made the trip to school to collect them? According to MIT Professor Sherry Turkle, today’s children are just as accustomed to seeing the top of their parents’ heads, staring down at their Blackberries or iPhones. We are there waiting for them, but our minds are somewhere else.

-5- Dear 12-year-old me

Ever wonder what you might say to your younger self, if only you could pass on the wisdom you’ve accumulated throughout your teens, twenties, thirties or beyond?

This isn’t the same thing as writing out a mini-lecture to your own kids, full of rules, warnings and admonishments. It’s about taking the time to think through the hard lessons learned through experience, the insights gleaned from our regrets, the pride in choices well made or effort exerted. It occurred to me that this was a worthwhile exercise for anyone, parent or not, who worked with kids. You might also learn something about yourself.

And although they didn’t make it into the top 5 on traffic stats alone, the following are some of my favourite posts from the past year:

A group of women saved my life

It’s almost twelve years now since I met the group of women who saved my life.

My world had imploded with both good things and bad. My husband and I had these brand-new, impossibly tiny, bald, newborn twin girls, born three weeks early but miraculously healthy, and we were struggling to get from hour to hour through each day and night. We were managing on a very modest single salary while I tried to finish a doctoral thesis that would take me another four years to get done.

Pushing my kids off the platform into thin air

We spent a lovely family weekend at the Smuggler’s Notch Family Resort in Vermont. I was there for a Saturday a.m. blogging conference (at which I learned how little I actually know), but it was also a (generously comped) opportunity for Martin and I to spend some quality together time with our kids. Our older daughters are graduating from elementary school tomorrow (how did that happen so fast?), and about to turn 12 this summer. We’ve become aware that all too soon they will rather do something (anything) with their friends than spend a weekend with us, and we want to squeeze out every moment possible before they do.

Proud to be the meanest mom in the whole world

That’s me.

At least according to every one of my daughters at off moments in our relationships. Like when I take away their iPads while they are supposed to be doing homework or walking the dog. When I find them Skyping at 11 p.m. when they were supposed to be asleep. When I react angrily to disrespect. Or when I forbid clothing I deem inappropriate for a 12-year-old.

Learn to value your emptiness: Scott Fried on the secret lives of tweens

“How was your day?”


“What did you do?”


Sound familiar? How often have you tried to get some information from your tween or teen about their day, or their math test, or a fight with their friend and found yourself facing a figurative brick wall.

Holidays with your tween/teen: a different kind of magic

They don’t believe in Santa anymore. They don’t fill Christmas wish lists with requests for ponies or pogo sticks or Easy Bake Ovens. They don’t wake us up at the crack of dawn to open the pillowcase of presents on their beds, or rush downstairs to see if Santa ate the cookies they’d left for him. They don’t cram their mouths full of chocolate Chanukah gelt or spend hours playing dreidel games on the kitchen floor while I fry up the latkes.

Things that make you go “hmmmm”

In my travels across the web, I come across some interesting articles about kids, technology, pop culture and high-risk activities. This post offers a selection of the stuff that caught my attention this past week, including stuff on Facebook, bullying, digital skills, eating disorders and risky behaviors in general.

In sharing these articles, I’m not necessarily endorsing them. Some offer compelling new research, but numbers can often be twisted to say what we want them to say. In reporting these statistics, the media often forgets that simple correlation does not necessarily imply causality. However interesting they are, it’s always helpful to maintain a critical perspective. One way or another, all of these pieces made me go “hmmmm….”

Schoolchildren can use an iPhone but cannot tie their shoelaces, poll finds

MANY schoolchildren are more confident using a DVD player or iPhone than tying their shoelaces, research claims.
As many as 45 per cent of children aged between five and 13 can’t tie their shoe laces – but 67 per cent can work a DVD player, according to a poll.
The study showed a large proportion can log on to the internet, play on computer games, use an iPhone or iPad and work satellite television services like Sky Plus.
But 65 per cent can’t make a cup of tea, while 81 per cent can’t read a map and 87 per cent wouldn’t be able to repair a bicycle puncture.
(Read the full article here.)

Teen sues over Facebook bullying

A teenager in Georgia has decided to take things into her own hands after her school and police said they could do nothing about the classmates bullying her on Facebook.
Fourteen-year-old Alex Boston and her parents are filing suit against two classmates and their parents for libel after the two classmates allegedly created a fake Facebook account in her name, using a photo of her that they distorted. The account was also used to post a racist video to YouTube that implied that Boston hated African-Americans, and to leave crude comments on the Facebook pages of other friends, suggesting she was sexually active and smoked marijuana.

(Read the full article here.)

American Teens: Live Fast, Die Hard

The teenage years should come with a warning label:  Being an American teen may case early death.
At least, that’s the gist of a new study published in the British medical Journal “Lancet.” The study of teenage behavior in developed, higher income countries, indicates that U.S. teens tend to live faster and die harder than kids of the same age in other countries.
Americans between the ages of 10 and 24, smoke more pot, drink nearly as much alcohol and are more likely to die violent deaths, compared to young people in the same age group around the globe.

(Read the full article here.)

Beyond anorexia, bulimia: Lesser known eating disorders

For decades, the eating disorder lexicon had two main entries: anorexia and bulimia. But modern research reveals that these fall woefully short of encompassing the many facets of disordered eating. In the early ’90s, the American Psychiatric Association introduced a new diagnostic category: eating disorders not otherwise specified (EDNOS). A catch-all label that includes dozens of subdiagnoses, EDNOS applies to patients who don’t meet the exact criteria for anorexia or bulimia but still have very troubled relationships with food or distorted body images. Today, EDNOS diagnoses significantly outnumber anorexia and bulimia cases. “The atypical has become the typical,” says Ovidio Bermudez, M.D.

(Read the full article here.)