By Susie Bruce, M.Ed.
- Alcohol overdose and hazing can be prevented.
- Educating youth on the signs of alcohol overdose can reduce risk of death.
- Encouraging students to learn about organizations before they join can reduce hazing experiences.
- Successful conversations with teens focus on openness, honesty, mutual respect, and trust.
“It never occurred to me that he wouldn’t be able to handle a situation. I really didn’t have any worries.”– Leslie Lanahan, mother of hazing victim Gordie Bailey
Lynn Gordon (“Gordie”) Bailey died 3 weeks into his freshman year of college from an alcohol overdose related to hazing. After a bid night tradition where pledges were encouraged to drink large quantities of alcohol, Gordie passed out at his fraternity house. His new “brothers” put him on a couch, wrote all over his body with permanent marker, gave him a bucket for vomit, and then left him alone. By the time someone checked on him the next morning, it was too late.
“Everybody thinks it’s not going to happen to them. We were in that crowd. It wouldn’t happen to us. We want parents to learn from our tragedy.”– Michael Lanahan, Gordie’s step-father
Most parents and schools talk with students about the dangers of drinking and driving, but far fewer discuss the lethal risks of drinking too much alcohol too quickly or the prevalence and risks of hazing. Teens are unlikely to initiate conversations on these topics with adults, and it can be easy for parents and caregivers to avoid these uncomfortable topics. However, it’s worth noting that parental expectations and opinions do have an impact on student behaviors, both positively and negatively.
How can you prepare for these conversations? Be factual and straightforward about your expectations as well as your concerns. Teens want to talk with adults if the conversation is structured for openness, honesty, mutual respect, and trust. Focus more on strategies to protect health and safety and less on legal consequences.
Ready to get started? Here are some initial topics to cover.
Make sure youth know the signs of overdose
Even if a student doesn’t drink, or is under the legal drinking age of 21, knowing the “PUBS” overdose symptoms could save someone’s life. Seeing even one sign is an indication of a medical emergency requiring a call to 911.
- P – puking while passed out
- U – unresponsive to a pinch of shaking
- B – breathing is slow, shallow or has stopped
- S – skin is blue, cold or clammy. If the person has darker skin, check their lips or nailbeds to see if they are getting pale.
Consider showing the Gordie Center’s 1-minute PUBS video and ask:
- “How likely is it that you’d call 911 if you’re in a situation where someone has one of the PUBS symptoms?”
- “What would you do if friends minimize your concerns and tell you not to call?”
Encourage youth to add the national Poison Control hotline to their contact list
Students may be scared of getting themselves, their friends or their group in trouble and hesitate in a situation where seconds count. The Poison Control hotline (1-800-222-1222) connects to a national network of regional centers that provide confidential, expert advice 24/7. Talking with a medical expert can make the difference between life and death by giving students someone to “blame” for calling 911.
Talk with youth about how to choose groups that don’t haze
As Gordie’s story illustrates, hazing can happen to anyone. Hazing is perpetuated in all types of organizations, and nearly half of college students endured some level of physical or psychological hazing in high school. Students want to feel like they worked hard to achieve the privilege of being part of a group, so how can parents and other adults provide guidance in choosing groups that don’t haze?
The discussion starters below are also provided in an animated Gordie Center video:
- Which types of groups or organizations have you thought about joining, and why?
- What do you know about the group you are joining? How can you find out more?
- Is this group included on your school’s hazing violation list?
- What kinds of activities are required to join? Will it take away from academics? Is drinking involved?
- How comfortable are you with those activities, or the unknowns of the membership process?
- Will you promise to tell me if any activities cause you physical pain or emotional distress, even if the group swears you to secrecy?
Viewing HAZE to start the conversation
The Gordie Center’s 37-minute HAZE documentary film tells Gordie’s story through interviews with his friends and family, as well as with national experts on alcohol misuse and hazing prevention. The film is available for purchase or rental to schools and anyone who wants to view HAZE with their family can request a link to stream the film for free. A free discussion guide is available.
The first discussion on a challenging issue is often the most difficult, so don’t try to cover every topic at once. Spreading out conversations on alcohol, hazing, and other safety issues will have a more long-lasting impact than one marathon session. Keep your focus on having a two-way discussion where your teen gets to share their thoughts and ideas instead of a one-sided lecture. Sometimes the best question can be a simple, “What do you know about…?” and see where the conversation goes.
“Before Gordie died, I’d never given any thought to death by alcohol. I’d received almost no education about it—teachers never talked about it.”-Serena Keith, close friend of Gordie’s
Author Bio: Susie Bruce, M.Ed., is director of the University of Virginia’s Gordie Center, which works to end hazing and substance misuse among high school and college students. She is a Faculty Affiliate of Youth-Nex, and directs the NCAA-funded APPLE Training Institutes: the leading national strategic training program for substance misuse prevention and health promotion for student-athletes and athletics departments.