Guest Opinion

Monday, February 2, 2004

Drinking and punishment

Kids will be kids. And kids will continue to do things they're not supposed to be doing.

Personally, I think it's simply a natural instinct we've held onto since the beginning of time. "Whatever you do, don't eat the fruit from this tree..." the story goes.

As soon as we were old enough to reach up to the counter and grab that cookie we knew we shouldn't be eating fifteen minutes before dinner, we were scrambling to brush the crumbs off our shirts before Mom found us.

If we're told not to do something, we have this natural urge of defiance. And, of course, if we're caught doing something, we have repercussions.

A few weeks ago, I caught an article in the Des Moines Register that reported on the differences in Des Moines area schools' sanctions for students using alcohol. Several of the schools require students to miss 10 percent of student activities while others require up to 33 percent, according to the article. Several of the schools require students to attend substance abuse counseling or perform 10 to 20 hours of community service.


For some students, sneaking into the fridge to steal some of Dad's beer on a Friday night or having a friend with a fake ID buy some alcoholic beverages is okay. It's worth putting everything on the line at the time because it's a no-no. And everyone knows that when you're not supposed to do something, you do it anyway.

The article had me a little curious and got me thinking back to my high school glory days. Okay, they weren't all that glorious, but much like a lot of these kids today, I had a lot on the line if I decided to violate any good conduct policies.

In the fall of '97, my school district, North Kossuth, decided to review its policy and determine if any changes needed to be made. A group made up of each class president and the high school principal as well as a local law enforcement officer who was also on the school board met to review policies from the surrounding districts as well as our own and come up with a revised one to present to the school board.

As the junior class president, I had the opportunity to offer my input on a policy I thought would have nothing to do with me, so I was a little conservative with my opinions. I was busy with loads of activities and sports, an after school job, and a teenage relationship which left me no time for alcohol. I knew other students were doing it, but it wasn't quite my cup of tea at the time.

If they got in trouble for it, it was their problem. I wasn't going to risk anything.

It reminded me of a statistic in the article I had read. Apparently in 2000, a survey was done by the School Administrators of Iowa of 1,848 students, and 63 percent of the students recalled occasions over the past year where they decided "not to drink alcohol, use drugs or tobacco, or engage in other illegal activity because I feared loss of eligibility." In my opinion, a percentage like that is pretty impressive considering that not everyone is involved in extracurricular activities.

Students realize that the activities they participate in are a reward, and they enjoy participation to the point where they will choose eligibility over a bottle.

"Student participants involved in the activities program are expected to maintain high academic and social standards as representatives of our school and community," according to the Storm Lake Community School District's Student Activities Code. Obviously, all of our schools have good conduct policies in place not just to maintain a good reputation; the policies are in place to raise fine, upstanding young people who will be our tomorrow.

And this brought me to another question.

If one school's good conduct policy is more strict than several others' in the same area, does it mean that the strict school cares more about fostering youths with higher morals than the other schools?

Storm Lake High offers two options for students who violate their good conduct code.

"Option A - Fifty six (56) calendar days suspension from participation in all extracurricular activities, beginning on the day that the student informs the school administration of their choice of Option A or B," says the code.

"Option B - Fourteen (14) days suspension and agrees to obtain an immediate professional assessment from a school approved treatment/counseling agency and agrees to follow the recommendations of the assessment counselor and signs release of information forms between the school and the assessment agency."

My high school's new policy along with most of the ones we looked at before deciding on one basically had the same premise. Admit that you're busted, sit out a few events, and do some counseling or treatment and you're back in your uniform or robe in no time.

And admit it before the district finds out from some other source. You might receive even a little more leniency. If you get into trouble, be honest about it and get help - that sounds like a good moral lesson to me already, because that's how my family was raised. If you screwed up, you might as well admit it to Mom because she always finds out about it somehow. And if you know you screwed up, and she knows you know, hopefully she'll deal with Dad and the punishment might not be as quite bad.

So what if a school district goes to a one-strike-and-you're-out policy? Make one mistake or bad choice, and you're done for a year. Does that school care more about it's students? And would that school's students' be better citizens and make better choices in fear of losing eligibility?

What if all schools across the nation adapted that policy? How would our kids turn out? Would they still smoke or drink or do things they're not supposed to?

If you're a parent reading this and you've got kids who participate in any sort of extracurricular activity, ask them if a something like this would affect some of the decisions they make. Even if you think you've got good kids, there are times in their lives when they misplace the wings and halos for a little while.

So which policy works the best to raise kids better - one-strike-and-you're-out or admit-you-screwed-up-and-get-help?

Even with the chance of an iron clad fist coming down on them, kids are still going to make mistakes and do what they do, no matter what. And of course, they know that they'll be punished if they're caught. Give them the opportunity to be honest and learn from their mistakes.

But if schools are going to presume to deal out the punishments, they should also make sure they treat all equally.

* Kevin Osborn is a Pilot-Tribune intern and Buena Vista University student.