A recent report on the rate of teenage alcohol use in Utah contains some encouraging numbers and some numbers that aren't so positive. But contained in its volumes of data also are numbers that point to trends that are, frankly, hard to comprehend.
First, the good news: Far fewer Utah teens regularly consume alcohol than do their peers nationally, according to data compiled by the Utah Division of Substance Abuse and Mental Health. In fact, the rate of alcohol use by 12th graders in Utah is less than half of what it is nationally. Across the country, 40 percent of the kids surveyed said they consumed alcohol within the last 30 days, compared to 17 percent of those surveyed in Utah.
Now, the not-so-good news: Utah kids who use alcohol are much more likely to binge drink than kids in other states. Nationally, about half the kids who admit to recent alcohol use admit to binge drinking, or consuming five or more drinks in a row. In Utah, 72 percent of those high school seniors who say they've recently had a drink admit to binge behavior.
Finally, the perplexing news: According to the survey, a large percentage of teens who consume alcohol in Utah say they do so with the permission of their parents, or the permission of the parents of friends with whom they drink. Not that they merely sneak a drink while adults aren't around, but that they consume alcohol with the adults' knowledge and tacit approval.
Those parents need to be reminded that early use of alcohol has been proven to lead to a host of serious problems later in life. People who begin drinking regularly in their teen years are far more at risk to develop drug or alcohol dependencies. They are at higher risk of dropping out of school, engaging in risky sexual behavior, and are more prone to committing acts of violence.
How people remotely tethered to the concept of proper parenting can passively allow teenagers to even try alcohol, let alone to drink regularly and drink to excess, is beyond easy comprehension. And it's apparently not a small number of parents in that category.
According to the report, which was recently presented to the Utah Department of Alcohol Beverage Control, 36 percent of the older teens who admitted drinking at home say they did so with their parents' consent. Forty-six percent who say they drank at a friend's house say the drinking took place with the permission of the friend's parents.
The results of the annual survey are influenced by cultural factors. The low rate of overall alcohol use by teens is viewed as a result of a strong anti-alcohol abuse ethic among many Utahns, just as the higher rate of binge drinking is viewed by some as a form of rebellion against that ethic. Excessive or even experimental drinking by those under the legal age cannot be viewed in any way as an acceptable form of expression.
The state beverage control agency deserves credit for its efforts to patrol against the purchase of alcohol by those under the legal drinking age. But it's frustrating those efforts are for naught if adults don't do their part to teach and patrol against alcohol use, whether in their homes in or anybody else's.
Regardless of whether parents are themselves drinkers, allowing their kids to imbibe is not acceptable, either under the law or under any definition of responsible parenting.