Coddled, Not Stirred

Why are Boston’s college students so immature when it comes to drinking? Maybe it’s the way we’ve raised them.
teen-drinking

Photograph by Toan Trinh

A headline from the Sunday New York Times said it all: “Reporting Rape, and Wishing She Hadn’t.” I sat on a bench waiting for a brunch table on a beautiful July morning on Martha’s Vineyard, but I couldn’t ignore the article or the dark silhouette of the girl’s pained face.

I begrudgingly picked up the paper. Then I read about the young woman’s plight at a small private college: “She was 18 years old, a freshman, and had been on campus for just two weeks when one Saturday night last September her friends grew worried because she had been drinking and suddenly disappeared.” The main thrust of the article was that colleges aren’t doing a good job preventing, and dealing with, student-on-student violence. It laid blame everywhere—the administration, the district attorney, the local police—but on the kids themselves. I got angry thinking that parents all over this great country are relying on college administrators and the good will of strangers to keep their kids safe.

Before you accuse me of victim-blaming, consider this: Modern parents spend inordinate amounts of time and money prepping their kids for success, but they don’t spend one minute teaching them how to avoid getting sloppy drunk among strangers. They buy all the lessons, tutoring, and extracurricular activities they need to charm the admissions committee, but don’t give them real-life wisdom. Sure, colleges have some responsibility for the kids once they hit campus, but when parents fail to teach their spawn how to handle their hooch, they’re just asking for trouble.

Growing up in Southie, we learned about drinking the old-fashioned way: by doing it. Teens drank on corners, playgrounds, beaches, and behind warehouses. We bragged about getting “shattered,” and enjoyed a wink and a nod or the blind eye from adults in our tight-knit community. We made mistakes along the way, but boy, did we learn. Our first lesson? Don’t get blackout drunk with people you barely know.

 

Every September, I watch throngs of loving, caring parents walk their little ducklings up and down Boylston Street, lugging brightly colored twin comforter sets protruding from oversize Bed Bath & Beyond bags—looking more like summer campers than college students—content that they’ve fully prepped their offspring for the years ahead. They swipe platinum cards to buy North Face jackets, mini fridges, MacBooks, and microwaves. All the while, they complain about the amount of money being spent, but they’re always quick to follow up with jokes about the frequent-flyer miles they’ll get for their purchases.

By early October, parents long since departed, things turn ugly. Here’s what the adults think is going on: Their happy, sober teens are meeting at a library on a Friday night to share intellectual interests and tell geeky first-kiss stories, the hardest drink among them a double-shot latte. The reality: Rowdy groups of fucked-up young men and women are drowning their bodies and brains in alcohol.

By late October, I see those same kids stumbling around everywhere: on the roof of the Lansdowne Street parking garage before an 18-plus show, chugging Fireball from paper bags like homeless alcoholics. They hang in front of rundown apartment buildings in Allston, smoking beanies. They stagger through the Fens alone. They hunch over stairs, puking into bushes. They piss in people’s alleyways and backyards. They yell unintelligible words incessantly peppered with the name of their new college “best friend.” “Lauren!”…unintelligible groaning, vomit…“Lauren!”…unintelligible groaning, vomit, crying…“LAUREN! Where are you?”…full-on sob. Lauren can’t hear you because she is upstairs, at the party, doing shots—she doesn’t even know you’re outside. She didn’t grow up with you or know your family, so she doesn’t feel compelled to ensure you’re okay. She forgot about you.

They fall out of cabs, windows, and into the harbor. They make you do that reverse “shhh” sound with your mouth as you watch them narrowly avoid a cracked skull after their stilettos get caught in the cobblestones of Faneuil Hall. They possess alarmingly low levels of concern for their “friends” and peers, often acting as passive—or, even worse, ambivalent—witnesses to sexually aggressive behavior. They think it’s funny when frats throw keg parties and hang bed sheets from balconies that declare things like “Mothers, drop your hot freshman girls here.”

By late fall, one of those kids might end up on YouTube drunkenly berating a university cafeteria manager and hollering, “Just give me some fucking bacon-jalapeño mac ’n’ cheese!”