Introductory note from Amy Fuller:

I’ve often reflected on what a positive impact Ethical Culture Sunday school has had on my sons. Occasionally, I get a concrete example, as I did recently when Niall shared one of his English papers with me. As it captures the kind of ethical decisions facing high school students, I wanted to share it with our Page readers.

We are all different: a boring, yet true statement. We all make our own decisions and approach different situations in our own ways. This is undeniably factual. As long as we stay true to ourselves, I believe that one will make the “right” choice. This idea goes nicely with the upbringing that I’m sure most of us have had, to respect others’ differences and choices. In an ideal world with everyone always holding true to these two principles everything would be mighty fine. I would go my way, you would go yours, and we would both be at peace.

There’s only one problem, the world is far from ideal. Now I do admit that I am the one who does not abide by this idealistic code, but I feel that I am completely justified. Let me make it clear that I only break this implied rule of respect for one action. That action is underage drinking. I am part of the small minority who is completely opposed to it, and before anyone starts getting angry or anything, please allow me to make a of disclaimer of sorts. I do realize that the fact that I’m in such a small minority is relevant. I realize that no one wants to hear another “Don’t Do Drugs” speech, especially from someone their own age, and that my opinions may sound preachy to some, but if I don’t at least try to explain my position, than what’s the point of being so committed to it? And lastly, know that I’m not saying all of this to put myself up on a pedestal; I’m just trying to look out for my friends.

I want you to remember the days before alcohol was part of your life. Was fun not a part of that life? Were Friday and Saturday nights unbearably dull? Of course not, you still had a good time and I can tell you from personal experience that as a teenager enjoyable weekend nights still happen without alcohol. When I ask people why they drink I usually get “Because it’s fun” as an answer. Fair enough. Let me share a story with you about “Having fun” with drinking. Seeing as the number of kids who don’t drink is very small, a good number of my friends do partake in it. So back to the story, one Halloween weekend I made plans to hang out with some friends. They were planning to drink, but told me that I should come over after they were finished. When I arrived it didn’t look like everyone was having all that much fun: people were crying, shouting, and falling over. I understand that fun can mean different things to different people, but who enjoys any of that?

These same people were planning to leave the house they were at and walk, more like stumble, around town starting at 9pm on Halloween weekend. Rightfully so, the Larchmont Police are very active on Halloween weekend, and had myself and a couple of like minded people not stayed with our intoxicated friends, they would have done exactly what they planned on. I guess this might just be me, but who “has fun” getting busted by the police for underage drinking?

I understand that legitimate fun is often had while under the influence, but why go through so much trouble to have fun that you don’t remember the next day? In one sense staying true to yourself is doing what you want to do, but are you really in it for the “fun”? I’m also going to ask you to think of how this affects others too. I know that last line in particular sounds condescending and stuck up, but I mean it and I ask it in all sincerity. It’s not your parents asking, not that guy from D.A.R.E. in 5th grade, but me, your friend or at the very least your peer.

My friends weren’t the only ones who didn’t enjoy themselves. That night was arguably the worst of my life. For 6 hours, from 8 pm to 2 am, I was under constant stress. I worried about the safety of my friends, how I was going to get them home alright, and I even worried about them getting in trouble with their parents. On top of everything else that weekend, I regrettably lost a good deal of respect for some of my good friends. I’m sure you all have friends who abstain from alcohol, are you willing to risk your relationship with them?

In the end the decision is yours. I can’t force you to act a certain way, all I can do is hope that what I believe had the smallest of impacts in your mentality. If not, then I’m sorry for wasting your time. For those of you that see some value in my opinion, please take a moment to simply reevaluate your position on the subject. I understand that it is very unlikely for you to stop drinking once you’ve started, but maybe partake in it less often or in lesser quantities. Talk to your friends and make sure everyone understands where each other is coming from. This can be a very delicate topic, but understanding will support the relationships you and your friends have with one another. Do not lose sight of yourself; if you drink, the reason should be because you want to, it doesn’t matter what your friends want or what pop-culture tells you, and if you decide to abstain from alcohol, make sure it is not because of what others tell or want of you, but because it’s what you want of yourself.

-Niall Fuller Henderson