Monday, March 18, 2013

Stubenville. Turning Hindsight into Foresight

Hindsight. It's easier to see our mistakes when looking back, but the real value of hindsight is  in shaping the future. By looking at what went wrong and right, we can learn a lot about how to improve things.

The judge issued a guilty verdict in the Steubenville rape trial, and now the victim, the assailants, the other kids at the party and the community are all about to begin the very hard work of moving forward... and healing. Hopefully lessons learned, can be applied to the future. But that hard look in the rear view mirror shouldn't just be for the folks in Steubenville; every community has lessons to learn from this incident.

The first that comes to mind is underage drinking. Partying! It's not harmless fun...it's not a  rite of passage. Alcohol affects teenagers differently than adults; their bodies and brains are still developing and are more sensitive to its effects. Binge drinking is often followed by vomiting, stupor, passing out, blackouts and the inevitable hangover. While ‘worshiping at the porcelain altar' might make for campus chuckles, it's really not funny. Intoxication is a sign that the body is being overwhelmed ... and its most severe form, alcohol poisoning, can be fatal. And drunkenness escorts judgment right out the door. As Mike Nerney explained to the Shenendehowa Community Coalition in 2011,  in emotionally charged situations teens don't make decisions using the same rational processes as in normal circumstances. It’s no wonder the fallout from drunkenness often include fights, car accidents, regretted sex, sexual assault, and vandalism.  

Underage drinking…it’s a serious issue. Let’s fix it. While most teens don’t drink regularly and even fewer binge drink, the numbers are still staggering. Find out what you can do  about underage drinking. Parents, talk with your kids about drinking… and even more importantly talk with their friends’ parents too so they know your values. Don’t buy alcohol for minors (You’re not keeping them safe. You're encouraging them to drink… and  you can be arrested.) Talk to your kids about drinking; studies show your involvement is a crucial protective factor in promoting healthy decision making and avoiding underage drinking. Want to find out more, check out the Shenendehowa Community Coalition's blog, Face the Facts.

Bystander or Ally? What I find really haunting about the Steubenville incident is the number of youth who observed incapacitating inebriation and abusive behaviors that night, texted about them, took pictures, but didn't intervene. These kids know right from wrong; what happened? How do we teach our kids (and each other)  to intervene if we see something that's not right. Confronting a friend's actions takes courage. I wonder how many of the kids at that party, in hindsight, wish they'd done something that might have changed  the course of events. But let's be honest, as adults how many times have we seen something remiss, but didn't intervene? Why not? We know the excuses, "It wasn't my business. I didn't want to offend. Would I just make things worse?" If you were in trouble wouldn't you want someone to help? So how do we learn to be an ally rather than standing on the sidelines? Start small and practice.

 It is not only for what we do that we are held responsible, but also for what we do not do.
John Baptiste Moliere

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