Well, Milton doesn’t party in Isla Vista anymore. Sophomore year was the first time the Dos Pueblos student—now a senior—ventured across the backlands of Goleta and into the college-student ghetto that is Isla Vista. One of those nights, he showed up with his friends at a party that, by IV standards, seemed to be going well. Things took a turn for the worse, though, and in a matter of minutes the then-15-year-old was trapped in the confines of a grubby apartment with no exit in sight.
“These two guys got on a fight on the stairs; they were, like, going after each other and the stairs were the only way out of this place, so I started getting worried [that I was trapped]. And they were really drunk, and we started worrying that the cops would come and we’d get caught. When the cops showed up, we had to just kind of slip past them on the stairs. I haven’t been partying in IV since,” he says.
There are worse stories. A well-known varsity athlete said he was handcuffed last year for hosting an out-of-control party at a relative’s house in I. V., that sent three girls to the hospital with alcohol poisoning. Even that wasn’t enough to deter him from going back week after week during the school year. “On a good week, I’ll be out there one or two nights,” he said happily. Another senior guy recalled getting pulled over and nearly arrested for driving stoned; he said he and a college-student friend were sharing a joint and a bottle of Grey Goose vodka while cruising the main drag, and barely managed to feign competence when a cop pulled them over (but let them go). Another friend tells about going to a party where some guy took seven hits of Ecstasy and jumped off the roof. (The high-schooler went home. The guy ended up in the hospital, but didn’t die.)
With our area playing home to Playboy’s #2 Party School, more and more teens are partying in Isla Vista—especially Dos Pueblos students, due to their convenient proximity to the notorious party town. If anybody is doing anything right now to curb high school partying in I.V., it isn’t’ working. Oh, whoop. What now?
On the bright side, teens are beginning to regulate their own behavior and the behavior of those around them. Friends aren’t letting friends drive drunk, appointing designated drivers instead. Students are limiting themselves to one or two drinks and are only drinking at friends’ parties, rather than just showing up at a stranger’s place. I am yet to meet a single high schooler that totes a fake ID. More importantly, they’re becoming conscious of how partying fits into and affects their life at school.
Is this interesting behavior occurring in the absence of proper guidance from teachers and parents? Probably. We’re all sick of hearing the “Don’t have sex, or you will get AIDS and die,” style of prevention. In just a few short years, we high schoolers will be entirely on our own in college—without any guidance. Going into that environment without a shred of experience could be just as dangerous as going in with a partying past.
“I don’t party during the year,” says Mike (not his real name). “I’ve got work and grades [to think about].” A towering senior that emanates coolness and calm reservedness, he started partying sophomore year, but only during the summer, when he knew the parties weren’t quite as big.
If parents and administrators concede that nearly all high schoolers will engage in risky behavior, then they need to reconsider how they will respond. Punishments and severe limitations usually result in under-the-radar behavior, but maybe the dangerous actions of some teens could be minimized if those teens felt they could talk to educators or even parents about what is going on. The current situation is often unsafe, but a lasting solution could never be all-or-nothing. Instead, the focus should be on how, if you must go to I.V., you can do so without ending up in the hospital.
Be it marijuana or Captain Morgan, nearly everyone’s got some vice by senior year of high school. Chargers take their academics very seriously, and I’ve known more than one overachieving student who has a dirty little secret about what he or she does with free time—perhaps because they don’t have enough of it. It may be their very precociousness that pushes some students to try things they wouldn’t until they were older; perhaps we feel we can handle it.
And, as it turns out, most of us can.
Those who will inevitably end up going to IV to party need more than an offhand “Be safe!” from parents who don’t know where their kids are going, or, on the other hand, condemnation as a criminal or lowlife. Students need to be aware of the real consequences of their actions, know the risks, actively make choices they can live with, and—most importantly—know their limits. Santa Barbara has the right mix of progressivism and compassion to help teenagers grow in a healthy—but not restrictive—way. Let’s have a conversation; my side is ready to talk.