If you have a son or a daughter in high school, they should know about Erin Cox, a 17-year-old who was once the captain of the North Andover High School volleyball team in Massachusetts. Earlier this month she was just getting off her part time job at the Andover Inn when she got a call from a close friend and classmate who needed help.
The classmate was at a party with a lot of other teenagers and some were drinking. The classmate explained she was too tipsy to drive and asked Erin if she would come get her. So Erin drove to the neighborhood where the underage party was taking place and found her friend. Just as she did, police from four small towns showed up and arrested 12 underage youths and summoned 15 more to court for drinking, including the very sober Erin Cox.
North Andover High, it seems, has a zero-tolerance policy when it comes to underage consumption and, by the rules, Erin was demoted as captain and suspended for five games. The school’s athletes had been warned not to drink and not to attend any party where drinking is taking place. But children are also told “Do not let your friends drive drunk. Call your mom or dad to come get you – no questions asked – and if you can’t call your parents, call a sober friend.”
Well, everybody can see what a mess this case has become. Erin said, “I wasn’t drinking and I felt like going to get her was the right thing to do. Saving her from getting in the car while she was intoxicated, and hurting herself, or getting in a car with someone else who had been drinking. I would give her a ride home.”
It can be said that if Erin had called her friend from her parked car outside or sent her a text, she wouldn’t have been at the party. It can also be said that had the police not shown up when they did, Erin would be regarded as a hero, helping out a buddy who had made a poor decision. But, as it is, “no good deed goes unpunished” and it is a textbook case that again proves zero-tolerance rules defy common sense.
A school official told reporters that when the police show up, there is nothing anyone can do. “The school is trying to take a very serious and principled stand regarding alcohol. And we get all of that. Teen drinking is a serious problem.”
Erin said she feels very “defeated. When you are in high school you are supposed to stay perfect, and be perfect, but everyone makes mistakes. But I would do again. It was the right thing to do.”
No, the right thing to do is for high school students and their parents to have the discussion before the problem ever presents itself. Two or three times every year we hear where there is a party of high school kids where some are caught with alcoholic beverages. It will come as little surprise that every parent was once a teenager and some know quite a bit about underage drinking.
Every high school student should have a plan including the telephone numbers of three reliable people in case of an emergency. A parent should be the first line of defense but any teenager old enough to drive a car should realize there are going to be times when a steady voice on the other end of the line is a Godsend.
There is a code among teenagers to never tell on somebody else and that is noble up to a point. But when a situation turns dangerous, or a friend is too drunk to drive, or a pal is about to make a mistake, all of us will agree the very best friends are the ones who protect each other.
Zero-tolerance rules have proven to be idiotic and impractical. There must be a place for common sense and reasoning in any situation. One of the most successful football coaches has very few rules for his athletes “because that way we don’t have to make so many exceptions. Our guys know what is right and what is wrong and if they have questions, answers are pretty easy to find.”
If you have a teenaged son or daughter, I am begging you to have a plan before you need a solution. Life is so much simpler – and happier – that way.