A Student's Perspective on Drinking and Parties

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see also: Advice about Teen Parties
A Student's Perspective on Berkeley Teenagers: Drinking and Parties

Nov 19, 1999

I've been reading all your comments on parties, and being a student, I thought I'd submit my two cents. I am a senior at Berkeley High, and feel like I've experienced most of what there is to experience in the party scene. To begin with, I applaud your diligence in caring about what's going on with your kids. Way too many of my friends' parents seemingly couldn't care less where their kids are on the weekends. First of all, let me lend credence to the idea that most parties have alcohol as a major part of the activities: It is not an exaggeration to say that ninety-five percent (or more) of the parties I've attended since ninth grade have included alcohol-related activities.

While the average teen may seem outgoing, my observation is that this average personae is (if you will allow a generalization) more of a mask, a facade, than anything else. Especially in the younger grades, (and I'm talking from recent experience as well as from observation,) no matter how secure teens seem in themselves, there does exist some twinge of self-doubt, and in order to validate a healthy self-image, teens must search externally and find validation in the world. We do not, at that point in our development, trust our own impulses, our own value-systems and beliefs, enough to securely combat social pressures and norms. That, combined with the fact that Berkeley High is a huge, relatively impersonal institution, leads to parties that have no real core of similar-interest; as someone already mentioned, parties are generally open-invitation--in other words, anyone who hears about them is welcome to show up. So here you've got this group of kids who don't really know eachother very well, who are insecure about who they are, what they think and believe, and everyone wants to be cool and say the right things and act the right way. That's a lot of pressure. So it's easy to turn to drugs and alcohol. They act as social catalysts, making pleasant interaction possible where it previously would have been prohibitively uncomfortable. This has been my observation.

Just to give you a picture of the amount of people who imbibe, if you will: I'd say that out of all my many different friends at BHS, from many different social groups, different races, both sexes, etc., I would be hard-pressed to find ten people who don't drink. And I really do mean hard-pressed. Virtually everyone at Berkeley High drinks--it's a known fact (among the student body), and one that I gather is not expressed to parents all that frequently. There are the notable exceptions, but those are far and few between.

Parties generally evolve from a relatively small group of somewhat sober kids, to a mob of many drunk and high people, held together namely by the token bond of false social comfort. There's no easy solution. If your child is an upperclassman, chances are they do drink. The cool kids on the steps drink. So do the jocks, and the chess players. So do the nerds staying in at lunch to do math. (Please excuse all the gross categorizations and generalizations, but I'm trying to paint a picture.) There's virtually no group immune.

I'm not going to try to tell you what to do, how to parent, because you are surely better equipped than I am to hypothesize on parental methods. I just want to give you the picture, to validate the rumors, to say that yes, there is a major problem that could benefit from intervention. Being a senior, (yes, I know, still a baby to all of you,) I oftentimes look back at my high school career, and for the first time I can see things with a clear perspective. I certainly don't drink now, nor do I feel the need to. But back then, there was this incredibly strong urge to do so, I felt compelled not quite by peer pressure, but by the need to find some common means of communication, and these catalysts make that communication possible.

As for parents being present during parties: I've been to some parties where parents are present, but generally the parents just don't care about drinking/drugs. (If they did, their kids most-likely wouldn't have had the party in the first place, for risk of being thought of as uncool, etc.) I've been to plenty of parties where parents just go upstairs or downstairs, and just ignore what's going on. And then I've been to parties where the parents actually participate, come outside and talk to all of the drunk kids, take pictures, etc. I've been to parties where the parents actually provide the illicit substances; just a month or so ago I went to a party where the parents were home, and the host (kid) went down into the basement where her parents grow all their pot, and just used all of that for the party. This is Berkeley, folks. You've got to expect a lot of parents, post-hippies or the like, to smoke pot. And how in the world can you expect a kid to stay away from something that's not only considered cool and trendy, and feels good, but also is validated by the action of his/her parents? So as for checking whether parents will be home or not--I'm not sure that's such an effective method for making sure your kid's going to be alright. I'm sure you already know this, but parents can be just as irresponsible as kids sometimes, and oftentimes the irresponsibility of authority figures is much more damaging, much more influential, than that of peers.

This letter's already pretty long, but I'd like to cover a few more things, so I'll try to cover them briefly.

Driving: While I realize that the news I'm bringing isn't all that cheerful, I can say that drinking and driving following BHS parties (in my experience) has been much less than one might expect. While the actual parties themselves are hugely irresponsible and relatively dangerous endeavors, we teens seem to have caught on to the fact that drinking + driving = death. Generally speaking, designated drivers are appointed, and on the chance that the night ends with no sober drivers, people generally find other ways of getting home. (BHS students seem much more responsible in this regard than do many of the prep-school students around the East Bay; once again, this is only my experience talking, and I'm sure exclusions abound.)

Hard drugs: While they are sometimes present, they are much less of an issue, in my experience, than are alcohol and marijuana. I've seen some psychedelics around (psychedelic mushrooms, LSD, etc.), but have only heard of (and never seen) people using cocaine/crack/heroine/amphetamines/etc.

Sex: In a word, Yes. Sex does happen at parties, although the actual deed (spelled out: intercourse) is less frequent than random pairings who make out quite passionately (which is notably juxtaposed with the lack of any kind of emotional passion between the average given pair). Take alcohol and other drugs, and mix in raging hormones, and you're bound to get some sexual situations that occur in the moment, and are regretted later on.

Enough said. I wrote this all really quickly as a response to what I've heard from you all, I hope it's helpful in some manner or fashion. Life is so much better without drugs and alcohol. It's brighter and clearer and more alive. I just wish that so many people didn't have to find that out for themselves through harsh and harmful experiences. If you have the ability to help your kid out, to help them skip these foreseen pitfalls--I would recommend that with all my heart. While a few years ago I might have said, Let kids alone, what we're doing is not so bad, let us make our own decisions and form our own beliefs from OUR OWN EXPERIENCES, now I have taken on quite a different perspective. Although teens may project an image of mature self-sufficiency, I know from experience, and from observation of my peers, that this is somewhat of a fallacy. Don't be fooled. Keep up the good work in trying to protect your kids. If more parents took a stance, fought for the well-being of their kids, than perhaps this situation, coined the Party scene, (but actually is more accurately described as the predominant and pervasive social scene,) could be made into a much more beneficial scene, one that actually contributes to the healthy development of the person through this formative stage of our lives, not to the detriment thereof.

If you have any questions about anything I've written or anything else, please post your comments and I'll respond. Thanks for reading!

A Student at Berkeley High School

Parent Responses

WOW, WOW, WOW!! I just finished reading this. THANK YOU, whoever you are, for a well-written, well thought-out piece that really made me feel that you are ready for whatever life will bring you after high school. If you are college-bound, you will be prepared. I bet you'll be a success at whatever you do.

Just had to let you know that I appreciated your efforts to express the points of view of a young person so clearly. It also made me feel that the right things can happen in high school. I guess overall it gave me hope. Believe me, I needed and wanted very much to hear this! Thank you so much. Please write again.

It was great hearing from a BHS student! I'd like to hear more.
I would like to take the contrary view. No, I don't think everybody drinks at Berkeley High. If my daughter drinks, I have no idea when she would find the time to do it. And I would be surprised indeed to find that her friends drink.

I do think that there are some risky parties. I am aware of a student who spent time in Alta Bates after being beat up at a party. I suggest, as parents, that we befriend each other. If there is a party at your house, ask parents in when they drop off their kids. If your kids are going to a party, go visit yourself. If you insist on your right to survey the premises, you will ruin the fun for your child. Which is exactly what you want to do.

To BHS student/senior...thanks for your thoughtful and articulate letter. Your perspective is much appreciated as well as the time it took to write down your experiences and opinions. Candace
I'd like to commend the BHS senior who gave us the Scoop on parties. I found it very helpful to read and realize how important it is to talk to our teens and set limits. Thanks BHS senior!
To the BHS senior who responded to the parent concerns about Teen Parties--Brava! (Or Bravo! as the case may be.) Thanks for the straight story from a perceptive, thoughtful, expressive young adult. Every single thing you said rings true, and I can only hope that we hear more from people like you on all discussion topics.

As parents, we are constantly wondering whether we can strike the right balance between overprotecting our kids and encouraging their independence. We always hope we have laid the groundwork, instilled values and common sense so they can make their own good choices; but pressures, inexperience, and immaturity can often override what they know is safe and sane. (I feel as you do that young teens are more insecure than older teens; and that good judgement is more likely to prevail with older teens, by virtue of maturity, and not because of experience in making bad judgements.)

Thanks for letting us in on your thinking. I'd love to hear more from you and other young adults who can help us with our parenting.

Thank you to the BHS senior!
Thank you to the BHS senior who obviously put a lot of thought into her detail filled response to parents discussions about drinking, drugs, driving, and sex. I appreciate hearing your perspective and hope that my daughter grows to be as thoughtful as you appear to be. You also appear to be good writer--is that your natural talent??? or was it also recognized and foster by BHS English teachers.
I just wanted to sincerely thank the Teen who took the time to write such a candid and well-spoken letter about parties at BHS. Is there anywhere we can publish this, whether attributed or anonymous (either way with the teen's permission, of course)? This letter rings so true to me. My teen stepdaughter is attending a school in another state, and her aunt and uncle (with whom she is living), report that she is saying all of the same things reported in previous posts here (no one brings their friends home to meet their parental units; why do I have to tell you every little detail about where I am going? etc etc). Clearly, teenagerhood is more similar than dissimilar even in different cities (at least in this country).

Since this post was anonymous, I couldn't ask the teen's permission directly. I hope that you will be flattered rather than disturbed that have forwarded this post to my husband, the aunt and uncle, *and* my stepdaughter (keeping it all in the family, as it were). I hope that these wise words will have some positive effect on all our lives. I would like to see that effect spread to every teen and parent of teen in the country. Thank you again.

I want to thank the student who was so articulate and honest about Berkeley parties. Perhaps you can send you thoughts to the local newspapers so more parents can read it. I especially appreciate your perspective from a mature place now, and how you can see how much better life is when your sober. I would guess that you have parents who have made real efforts to stay connected to you during your High School years, and who respect and trust you. It's very important that we take our blinders off as parents and help our teens as best we can to navigate the confusing times they face. Over the years there have been times I have not wanted to see how things really are because I didn't know what to do. (I have two grown children and 2 at home). I suggest parents go to classes, support groups, or just talk with other parents about the real issues. We all need support and yet are often afraid to seek it out. (In that regard many thanks to the folks who make this newsletter happen.) To the student: please continue to offer your understanding to parents. Many people struggle to find ways to communicate with their teenagers and could benefit from your insights. My children teach me more than I could learn from any book or expert Thank you,
I also thank you for taking the time to write your thoughtful letter. I showed it to my junior to back up what I've been telling him about why I won't allow him to attend such parties. He was very frustrated at me after reading it, saying, Yes, everything is just as he says it is, but you missed the part about teens needing the EXPERIENCE. I want you to let me go to those parties so I can experience them, and I want you to trust that I'm not so stupid as to drink or use drugs even though they are there at the parties. I also really want to know how to email back to that kid. I have a few things to say to him.