Letter (Larry Suydam): Good morals are caught, not taught | TahoeDailyTribune.com

Letter (Larry Suydam): Good morals are caught, not taught

We’ll call him Jimmy. He was in middle school; a decent kid, good student, curious. In class one of his assignments was to report on current events. In scanning the two local newspapers, he couldn’t help but notice the numerous articles and photos concerning alcohol. New breweries, “bartender races,” “mixers” — where all the important people in the community got together and “networked,” glass in hand. And for a cruise on the lake, how about some wine tasting, also?

Seemed pretty obvious to Jimmy that adults couldn’t have a good time without booze. Every ball game he watched on TV was peppered with ads showing beautiful people lifting their favorite brew. Heck, Jimmy’s own family get-togethers with the in-laws got a little loud and rowdy sometimes. So what if Uncle John got soused a bit — it was all fun, wasn’t it? Jimmy started stealing sips from the adults at the parties and thought he was pretty cool.

Oh, Jimmy had been warned about drugs. He knew they were bad. So he had heeded the warnings, except for smoking some grass once with his buddies and coughing up a storm.

But booze was different. Much more socially acceptable. Seemed like everyone drank. When Jimmy got into high school, some of his friends’ older brothers would get beer for them. Some of the jocks on the football team drank: talked about “pounding brews.” Jimmy didn’t want to be called a “nerd,” so he found himself drinking more. Just one of the boys.

Jimmy was still getting good grades, so for his 16th birthday, his proud parents got him a nice used truck. They all started discussing future college and career options.

One Friday Jimmy heard about a party at a friend’s cabin up on Echo Summit. Beer and girls — a teenage boy’s holy grail. So he and a couple buddies headed up that night.

Wow! What fun! But coming home wasn’t so much fun. Jimmy was wasted. Driving too fast, couldn’t make a curve, hit the low guard wall, and went over. The screams stopped long before the truck finally came to rest against a boulder in Christmas Valley.

Jimmy’s family didn’t have to be concerned with college or career choices after that. Neither did two other families. All they had to do was grieve.

Fiction? Yes — and no. Alcohol-related deaths, injuries, and crime are all too much of a reality in our society — even in our small mountain community. Untold numbers of lives and marriages have been devastated by alcoholism. Many, if not most, families have been impacted by this scourge, or know someone who has. Sure, drugs are an epidemic in our country — but alcohol is right up there with them in the misery index. Just ask any cop.

What to do? Well, it would be nice if we could stop glorifying the stuff, but that’s not going to happen with the millions the industry spends on advertising. As far as our kids go, the responsibility begins at home. Sure, talk to your kids about alcohol (and drugs), but more important, model proper behavior for them. Talk isn’t worth much if they see Mom getting “tipsy” or Dad putting away beer after beer. Good morals — and healthy lifestyles — are caught, not taught.

Larry Suydam

South Lake Tahoe, Calif.

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