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As high school parties change, students face new consequences
February 28, 2018
On December 31, 2017, at 9:44 p.m., Southborough Officers responded to a report of a possible underage drinking party, according to a Southborough Police Department Press Release. After detecting a large amount of illicit substances, 36 minors were detained, and the adult resident of the home currently faces court charges for “Furnishing Alcohol to a Minor” and “Minor in Possession of Alcohol”.
While police force and underage parties have always clashed, whether it be in movies such as “Project X” or in the past decades, factors such as vaping, narcotics and social media may be significant in what appears to be a spike in the correlation between parties and disciplinary action. The question remains: have parties changed in recent years?
Many students and faculty feel that there has been an increased police presence recently interacting with underage parties.
“I think that police action today is very inconsistent,” Emerson*, an Algonquin junior, said. “Lately, they have been a lot more strict than in the past.”
“[The police] have to change with the times, just like we all do,” health teacher Melissa Arvanigian said. “I think the police are really just being more aware of the towns and what’s happening in and around the towns.”
However, while the police may be more aware of activities due to components like social media, their message has always remained the same, according to Algonquin’s resource officer, Detective Michael Bisset.
“There are different factors that go into how the police arrive at that scene, but in terms of the actions once they’re there, it has remained pretty consistent throughout my five years,” Bisset said. “If there is a crime that is found and has probable cause to persist that it happened, then a person will probably be charged with that crime. That being said, the police’s number one goal in going to these parties is the safety of every person that is there.”
Protecting and preserving life is the Southborough Police Department’s mission, and their actions must reflect that overarching goal and adapt to fit specific circumstances, according to the Southborough Police Department’s website. According to Athletic Director Fran Whitten, effectively dealing with parties means keeping up with the trends in types of substances and forms of ingesting them.
“I think times change and the culture changes, but I would probably say that yes, certainly there are more parties and there is more going on at those parties now than back in the day,” Whitten said. “The types of drugs that are available, the paraphernalia that’s available—those things weren’t even existent back in the day.”
The police force also has to meet current legal standards, some of which include enforcing laws against use or possession of alcohol, marijuana, and other narcotics. Police are legally obligated to take action if suspected illicit activities are occurring.
“Back in the day, police would break up a party, they might call the parents, they might have them pick up the kids, whereas now, for legal reasons and liability reasons, the police have to adhere to the law,” Whitten said.
Violations that can warrant police action, according to a report published on usa.gov, include but are not limited to: excessive noise, physical assault, damaging property and trespassing.
According to Emerson, both the prevalence and danger of parties has heightened, which may be partially a result of expectations placed on students everyday in a school and home setting.
“I would say that parties are slightly more out of control than the past,” Emerson said. “I think that is caused by the amount of stress placed on students in their daily life. They’re just looking for a place to let loose. This, however, when taken too far, has put far too many students in danger.”
According to Emerson, strict regulations, albeit necessary to enforce safety, can sometimes promote further dangerous decisions.
“I wish [police and schools] could be more forgiving when we do happen to make a mistake,” Emerson said. “Students are being taught that you won’t get in trouble if you don’t get caught. This is only promoting to students that you should run from the police instead of staying and ensuring you are safe.”
Bisset stresses the safety and wellbeing of students as the most important factor when it comes to enforcing the law. He does, however, acknowledge punishments as part of maturing and accepting increased responsibility for actions.
“There are consequences to actions, so if you do something that you know full well you shouldn’t be doing, then you should expect those consequences down the road,” Bisset said. “That being said, the main goal and the main priority is the safety of those students… We don’t need someone running away from the police and then being hurt in the woods and we don’t even know that they’re there, or worse, driving themselves from that party, because they don’t want to get themselves in trouble and they think that they’re fine.”
Increased social media use, according to teachers and officers, has played a prominent role in the party culture seen today.
“Because of social media, we know more about the parties now than we used to,” history teacher Nathaniel Uttaro said. “Word travels so much faster now that a party can grow from a small gathering to a melee in a matter of minutes.”
For example, according to Arvanigian, sharing party photos or locations has specifically resulted in parties becoming more out of control and problematic.
“[Students] are sharing their location via Instagram or Twitter or Snapchat or whatever,” Arvanigian said. “The word gets out, and it spreads quickly. Maybe five, six years ago, the same types of parties had been happening, but they just weren’t as advertised as much as they are now.”
Additionally, vaping and the use of E-cigarettes has been an emerging trend, contrary to long-standing student use of alcohol and marijuana, according to Whitten.
“Five years ago, when I was here before I retired, I never had a suspension for vaping,” Whitten said. “This fall alone, I have had multiple suspensions for vaping. I don’t think the alcohol part of it has changed dramatically, but the amount of vaping is epidemic.”
Concern for vaping and the use of vape paraphernalia stems from an understanding of the health impacts in conjunction with the potential for it to act as a type of ‘gateway drug’. According to Arvanigian, this can be particularly dangerous during a person’s formative teenage years.
“When Detective [Brian] Griffin [from the Northborough Police Department] came to my class, he told the students ‘I’ve never met a drug addict who shot a needle in their arm the first try and got high on heroin,’” Arvanigian said. “They got high somewhere else before, and that was either smoking marijuana, drinking alcohol, something… When we are younger in the high school years, our brains are still developing, our bodies are still developing, until about 22 to 25 years old.”
THE INVINCIBILITY EFFECT
Professor of Psychology and Neuroscience Gary L Wenk describes a process called ‘neuronal myelination’ in an article called “Why do teenagers feel immortal?” published on psychologytoday.com. According to Wenk, neuronal myelination is the process by which a teenager’s frontal lobes become engaged. When these frontal lobes are not fully developed, it can result in poor decision making.
“Essentially, your frontal lobes tell you that it’s a bad idea to drink alcohol and drive or to ignore the consequences of taking heroin,” Wenk wrote in the article.
This psychological phenomenon can be dangerous in situations where people overestimate their capabilities.
“We think a lot of times that we are invincible, that nothing is going to happen to us,” Arvanigian said.
Brain development becomes crucial to curbing these destructive behaviors, and age is an important factor.
“When your frontal lobes finally complete their process of myelination, they begin to work properly and you stop doing dangerous things. Most importantly, you stop feeling immortal. Apparently, women finish this myelination process by age 25 years and men finish by age 30,” Wenk wrote in the article.
IMPORTANCE OF GETTING HELP
Filtering through her 15 year old cousin’s wake on April 14, 2016 reaffirmed for junior Stephanie Kalinowski the weight that certain decisions carry. After her cousin passed away in an automobile accident involving alcohol, Kalinowski speaks from her experience of suffering a heartbreaking loss to stress the importance of staying safe.
“In middle school, a ‘party’ was just a time for friends to get together to talk, eat, and have fun. Now that I have entered high school, everyone just gets drunk and dances around.”
“The reason for this change in part culture is simply down to the immaturity of teenagers… Stupid actions always happen and parties ultimately will be halted by the police’s intervention, which has consequences. ”
“Police responses should be severe enough to show students the consequences of their actions without instilling the mindset of trying not to get caught instead of valuing safety.”
“[Police] need to trust students. We are 18 years old and are allowed to vote and serve the country, yet we are not allowed to have a small get together without being shut down.”
“Partying isn’t a bad thing, but it’s what people choose to do at the party and after the party that can turn out so horribly wrong,” Kalinowski said. “No one should ever get into a car, whether they are driving or not, if anyone in the car has been drinking… This April marks two years since my 15 year old cousin was killed in a car accident because the driver was driving way too fast and she wasn’t wearing a seatbelt.”
Many teachers have also felt the far-reaching effects of losing someone as a result of speeding and alcohol. In 2005, Shauna and Meghan Murphy, both Algonquin students, were killed in an automobile accident involving driving under the influence.
“The bottom line is: it comes down to people being safe, and if people are not being safe, then it’s the responsibility of whoever it might be who sees that to do something about it, because we don’t need a repeat of what happened to the Murphy sisters,” Uttaro said. “Hopefully we only have to learn that lesson once.”
Especially when a situation becomes life-threatening, Bisset urges people to get the necessary help.
“My concern is always that someone is going to be at a party where they’re going to get sick because of the substances they’ve taken in, and someone is going to be afraid to call to get that person help,” Bisset said. “If they don’t get the help they need, that could be the end of the night for that person.”
While Bisset acknowledges that some students abuse substances as a coping mechanism, he encourages them to seek out support in other ways, whether it might be speaking to a counselor or other adult. Healthier alternatives exist to replace dangerous behaviors and habits.
“No matter what we preach, kids are always going to do it and always going to experiment,” Arvanigian said. “I just wish that they would experiment with much healthier options, such as sports, or activities, or clubs, or something like that, rather than abusing their bodies. We only have one body. You wouldn’t put bad gasoline in your Ferrari or your Lamborghini, so why would you put stuff like alcohol and drugs in your one body?”
Safety and wellbeing should be the primary responsibility of the students, according to Kalinowski.
“If there is one thing I can share from all the hurt my family endured, it would be this: when your mom tells you to make good decisions as you walk out the door, it’s because she wants you to walk back through it,” Kalinowski said. “The decisions you make at a party can save or destroy not only your life, but so many others.”