Teens Underestimate Dangers of Alcohol
March 27, 2014
On a Friday night two weeks before prom, senior Nolan Jenkins has everything going his way.
His lacrosse team is doing well in the post-season, he has a great date for prom, and he has been accepted into CNU.
Unfortunately, it took one mistake to change all of that.
On May 19, 2006, 17 year old Jenkins died from drinking and driving.
Jenkins had attended a party that night, one where alcohol was being served. Despite having a few drinks, Jenkins decided to drive home. On the way, he crashed and was ejected from his car. In addition to alcohol being a factor in Jenkins’s death, speed and the fact that he was not wearing a seatbelt played a role as well. Following Jenkins’ death, 11 minors would be charged with underage possession of alcohol.
“I was in complete denial, thinking, ‘No, this couldn’t have happened, I just saw him a few minutes ago, he wouldn’t make that decision’,” Jenkins’ mother and retired AHS teacher Anita Jenkins said.
Many parents are unaware of just how many teens drink alcohol, but according to the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse, close to 80 percent of high schoolers have tried alcohol. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) states that alcohol is the most commonly used and abused drug among teens in the United States. In fact, consumption of alcohol is greater in teens than it is in adults.
“They think they know the negative consequences, but what overrides that is the thought that it would never happen to them,” Jenkins said. “They don’t realize that even after one beer, statistics show that you are 60 percent more likely to make another destructive decision.”
Teens have several reasons to justify their underage drinking. They may look to alcohol just out of curiosity, as a way to relieve stress, to fit in with their fellow students, or to feel more mature.
When choosing to abuse alcohol, many teens are unaware of how they put themselves at risk. Despite the belief that nothing bad could ever happen, according to the CDC, at least 4300 teen fatalities occur annually as a result of alcohol.
After her son’s death, it took a while for Jenkins to come to terms with what had happened. “It was a numbness,” she said. “I kept looking for him and wondering where he or his car was.”
Jenkins allowed herself eight weeks to cope with the event before returning to teach at AHS. “There was a choice of either moving on or going backwards, and I chose to move forward,” she said.
Years following Nolan’s death, Jenkins decided that she wanted Nolan’s story to be told, so she began speaking to AHS students during pre-prom assemblies. “You watch videos in Driver’s Ed and you read all these articles, but I felt that with Nolan’s story, I could really bring home a more personal level with that.”
“I felt that if one person could hear Nolan’s story, they could understand the fact that it takes a moment to make a bad decision and that they should think before making those decisions,” she said.
Jenkins will be speaking at this year’s prom assembly, which will be on Wednesday, April 9.
With Spring Break and Prom on their way, there are opportunities for parties and events with alcohol present. Jenkins suggests that while attending these, students should think before they act, specifically when it comes to drinking. “There is a way of having fun that doesn’t involve alcohol,” Jenkins says.
“I know some say, ‘We’ll take away the keys and we won’t go anywhere,’ but I don’t see that as a solution because once you have that drink, the concept of, ‘They took my keys’ makes you go look for the keys, and that’s exactly what happened to my son. He wasn’t thinking of the safety part, he was thinking, ‘I will get my keys and I’ll get in the car.’”
In the case students do decide to drink, however, Jenkins believes that the best option is for teens to look to their parents to pick them up. “You have to have good communication between you and your child ahead of time to say, ‘Look, when that happens, it is not about being punished or disciplined, I’m concerned for your safety,’ because I would give it back in a heartbeat for Nolan to have made that phone call.”
Nolan’s death serves as a reminder to all teens that underage drinking is a problem and its consequences should be taken seriously. To those who continue to have misconceptions of how dangerous alcohol can be, Jenkins says, “Maybe they should have been around on May 19, 2006, and they could’ve maybe come to my son’s funeral. Maybe they would’ve had a different outlook on that.”