SPRINGFIELD, Mo. (KSPR) - “Prom to graduation season is statistically one of the deadliest times of the year for that age group,” said Kurt Larson about teenagers during the spring and summer while celebrating. Larson is a practicing attorney in Springfield, Missouri who represents victims of alcohol and drug related crashes.
“I have stories to tell, real life people in the Ozarks whose lives have been wiped out and I bring those stories to our kids in high schools,” he said.
That experience combined with the pressure his two sons faced every day inspired Larson to found Safe and Sober.
When Safe and Sober started 14 years ago, those with the program visited the five high schools in Springfield. Fast-forward to 2017, those with the program organized 306 high school visits and 150 middle school visits throughout the region. More than 160,000 students will go through the Safe and Sober program by the end of the year.
Larson said he knows the program is only drop in the bucket, but they still bring as many facts and stories to the students to educate them about staying sober until they turn 21-years-old.
Larson said science is one of the main reasons the legal drinking age is 21-years-old.
“Until age 25, young people are still having development in their brain at a biological level,” said Larson. “It is why kids are spontaneous and don’t always think through rational decision making.”
Larson also shared one of his favorite analogies for a young developing brain. He said, “A physician described a young person’s mind as a Ferrari without brakes, powerful impulses under very little control.”
There is also a higher risk of addiction. Larson cited the Center for Disease Control, when he said, “A 15-year-old who begins drinking is seven times more likely to develop an alcohol addiction than a student who waits until they are 21.”
Students caught underage drinking are subject to a minor in possession charge in addition to a fine and possible jail time.
Larson said there are usually alternative measures.
“Most often, there is a system in place where they are given the opportunity to rehabilitate and come out of that without a permanent conviction,” he said.
He also talked about of the possibility of human loss and how convictions can follow a person. “That may dictate what type of job you get, whether you can borrow money from a bank, and colleges don’t just take anyone. If you’ve checked the box that ‘I’ve been convicted of a crime’ then you’re out," he said.
Parents or adults who provide teenagers with alcohol can be punished too.
“The philosophy that they think about is that they are safely providing alcohol to kids, stay at our house, we’ll supervise you, but it’s not a safe environment at all,” said Larson. “Given their brain development, it’s about the worst thing you can do for a young person by providing them alcohol.”
Parents could face several consequences if caught contributing to the delinquency of a minor. “I’m aware of cases where people have been prosecuted for doing it and certainly parents who do it are subject to a fine and potential jail time," said Larson.
Larson said parents are still the biggest influence in their kids’ lives when they choose not to use drugs and alcohol. He encourages all parents to have conversations with their children and set their expectations.
“Too many parents fall into the trap unknowingly of becoming a friend to their young person, and that’s natural, but when it comes to drugs and alcohol a clear line needs to be drawn," he said.