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Drinking talk with new college students must start at home

The following editorial appeared in the (Decatur) Herald & Review on Thursday, December 27:


(MCT) — Attending a college or university presents thousands of students with increased opportunities to use alcohol, tobacco and illicit drugs.

Parents, police and college leaders don’t like it, but they acknowledge the universality of the problem.

Unfortunately, bad judgment sometimes has tragic results during those baby steps into adulthood. In November, just such an instance occurred at Northern Illinois University, when a freshman died of alcohol poisoning after a fraternity party.

Nearly 24 fraternity members are charged with hazing in connection with that student’s death.

A great number of Northern’s students are from the Chicago suburbs, so it’s easy to say “those kids” are more worldly than those from Central Illinois. But what about the drunken Illinois State University senior who was burned when she fell into an offsite sorority bonfire? The drunken Illinois Wesleyan University student who died last spring at an offsite fraternity party? The Bradley University soccer player who died off-campus in 2007 after a drunken fireworks prank went terribly awry?

After each instance, the universities took steps to prevent more tragedies: they banned organizations from campus, strengthened rules about alcohol and parties, increased alcohol education programs.

Criminal charges and fines were levied when appropriate.

Despite the hand-wringing and wrist-slaps, the problem continues, in large part because of a misguided acceptance that alcohol, cigarettes, marijuana and prescription pills aren’t “really” drugs.

We need to have a meaningful conversation among ourselves and then stand united in having that conversation with our children. But the conversation needs to start at home, with parents who define right from wrong and stand as role models, not winking when they break the rules themselves.

This week, families are spending a lot of time with their children because of the holidays.

Now is the time to start the conversation.

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