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By Bob Houghtaling
Todd Morsilli and Tim Lyons were two young men who lost their lives after being struck by vehicles operated by drivers under the influence of alcohol. Both tragedies had a significant impact on the town of East Greenwich. Todd’s death led to a number of statewide prevention efforts (serving as the impetus for our local Drug Program) and Tim’s passing saw laws tighten to include stiff sentences for those intoxicated behind the wheel. Both losses rocked the community. Worse, both loses were devastating to the Morsilli and Lyons families.
For a number of reasons it is important to remember the toll alcohol abuse causes our society. I consider underage drinking as a part of that abuse. All too often we hear that ‘everybody is doing it’ in terms of teenage alcohol consumption. We also hear about drinking being a rite of passage and it is not as bad as other drugs. Making matters worse, are adults who condone underage drinking by letting their kids consume at home or them trying to relate by telling ‘when I was a kid’ boozing stories. During my nearly 33-year tenure as the Director of the East Greenwich Drug Program one of the major concerns I consistently see is the ignoring or minimizing of teenage alcohol use.
Earlier this year, I made presentations at a number of Cole Middle School health classes. After spending a significant amount of time discussing cultural norms, the topic changed to parental attitudes. When I asked a bunch of 13 and 14 year olds how many of them ever attended adult gatherings, where alcohol was being consumed, about 80 percent of the students raised their hands. When I followed up with how many of them had seen grown ups drive home after drinking too much, more than one-third stated they had witnessed this behavior. Kids notice such things.
Our culture often sends out many mixed messages when considering alcohol. We tell kids not to drink or at least not get in a car with someone who has imbibed. At the same time we celebrate and grieve with alcohol. We also use it to calm our nerves, party and relax. While I am certainly not calling for a return to Prohibition, it would be nice if we could clarify our attitudes towards drinking, at least as it pertains to young people.
We are about to enter the prom and graduation season. This is certainly a time to celebrate the achievements of young people. However, it should also be a time when adults send out strong messages regarding underage drinking. Sometimes being an adult means that you’ll get on the unpopular list. I guess that goes with the territory.
Sometime back I did a Podcast with Richard Morsilli, Todd’s father. I will be posting that interview again as a little seasonal reminder. Richard’s grace and willingness to help is laudable. The pain he, and his family, continues to feel is, at times, overwhelming. You can hear the podcast by visiting http://rhoughtaling.libsyn.com, dated April 2014, it’s titled A Father’s Love. You can also hear it by visiting the East Greenwich Academy Foundation website at egacademyfoundation.org. I encourage parents to listen with their children.
Alcohol continues to be a major concern for teens. Unfortunately, I continue to hear of far too many parties where parents ignore or condone this potentially dangerous situation. Growing up can be difficult as it is, mixing in alcohol can make things even more confusing. Kids desperately need adult guidance and modeling – even when they say the opposite. So, enjoy Spring and all of its offerings. Let us make sure that we help young people enjoy it too. Remember Todd and Tim.