Family Magazine

Lessons From The Death Of A Penn State Student

By Joanigeltman @joanigeltman
I am sure that most of you are aware of the recent death of  Timothy Piazza, a Penn State student who was left for dead by his fraternity brothers during a hazing ceremony that included copious amount of alcohol. I am sure that the 18 boys who were charged with manslaughter are basically good kids. I'm not being sarcastic here, these are not "bad boys." These are kids who when faced with saving a life vs getting in trouble for hazing and drinking, chose the first, hoping against hope that their "brother" would be fine. This is the curse of teen magical thinking. The term is called Personal Fable, coined by psychologist David Elkind. Many teens feel that they are invincible and special. This corresponds with the emotional part of the brain that encourages them to act before they think. You know the emotional brain VS the thinking brain. That's why these boys just left their friend to die, probably thinking, oh he'll be fine!!!.
This is an important story to share with your teen. Below is a link to a New York Times article that describes this horrible event. You need to read it out loud with your teen, you need to talk about it, and without judgment let them know that "you get that sometimes when kids drink and someone passes out or falls, the inclination is to run without calling someone to get this kid some help, worrying that they'll get in trouble themselves." Talk about these Penn State boys, and how they are wishing now that they had just called 911 when they first noticed that Timothy was so out of it he fell down the stairs! Looking back, helping a friend to safety, and dealing with that uncomfortable call to a parent, is a whole lot better than feeling the guilt that a death could have been prevented by a simple phone call, and now a potential jail sentence.
Here is the link.
https://www.nytimes.com/2017/05/05/us/penn-state-fraternity-death-timothy-piazza.html
 It is spring, and soon summer, when outdoor partying is in high gear. Please please please talk about this story with your teen. Below is all the information kids should know and understand if and when they go out drinking with their friends.

The Information


  • It is considered binge drinking when a male drinks 5 shots in a two hour period and a female drinks 4 shots. Consider 1 1/2 -2 ounces of alcohol a drink. Many kids use water bottles as a vodka carrier. Show your teen what this amount of alcohol looks like using a typical water bottle. Most kids drink hard and fast, thinking "oh I don't feel anything yet, I' need to drink more. Kids can easily down this amount of alcohol in under 2 hours. Remember they are not enjoying a relaxing cocktail, they are drinking to get wasted.

  • Here is what happens to the body with this amount of alcohol:
  1. Alcohol depresses the frontal cortex of the brain, or the thinking brain, making people less inhibited (which is a definite goal for teens). This impacts the ability to make decisions, and affects all senses, making it difficult to make "sense" of what is going on to you and around you.

     2. Dehydration. Alcohol is a diuretic. It makes you pee...a lot. And if you are not counteracting this with drinking water, brain damage,  and passing out can result.
     3. Alcohol decreases breathing by affecting the part of the nervous system that controls breathing. This causes death.
     4. Alcohol lowers blood sugar and can cause seizures.
     5. Alcohol affects the part of the brain, the cerebellum, that controls balance, and motor coordination. Hence the term, falling down drunk. This can cause terrible injury. If a party is interrupted by the police or watchful parents, you can often see teens running from the scene who are completely compromised in their movements and can fall and really hurt themselves.
    6. Alcohol irritates the stomach which causes vomiting. Because of the alcohol, the normal gag reflex is disabled, and people can choke on their own vomit, aspirating into their lungs which is life threatening.
OK here's what they can do to help themselves stay safe or keep a friend safe who is drunk!

1. The obvious here is to call for help. Talk to your teen seriously about how it would feel to them to know that "If only" I had helped my friend, he/she would now be OK. Stress that NO ONE will be mad at them for potentially saving their friends life.
2. EAT!!!! Make sure your teen understands that having food in their body could save their life. Food slows down the absorption of alcohol. Many teens are drinking on empty stomachs, and do not eat when they are out.
3. Drink water and space out the drinking.
4. If a friend is obviously drunk, tell them to keep them in a sitting position, and give them water until help comes. If they are passed out, make sure they are lying on their side.
5. Check the friends breathing, is it regular and strong, or weak.
6. Keep them warm. Alcohol poisoning causes body temperature to drop. Remember, many kids party outside!.
I know this is some scary s**t!! And this feels like a mixed message, which it is. On the one hand you are saying, no drinking!!!! and on the other, here's what I want you to know. In no way are you giving them permission, but you are realistically trying to keep them safe. You love them, and you would be devastated if anything ever happened to them. Remember, this may have already happened to your teen or a friend of theirs, and you just don't know about it. Remember that teens are highly motivated to keep you out of their life especially when they know they are doing something you don't want them to do. This is just about safety...pure and simple


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