About two years ago a 14 year-old boy—Bill we will call him—was brought before me for drunkenness. I was sitting in the juvenile session of our district court. For several years Bill had been what social workers call a latch-key child. Both of his parents worked: his father was a taxicab driver and his mother worked as a waitress in a tavern. Bill had the key to the house and could come and go as he wished. Beer was available to him in the refrigerator, and so he drank when he desired and treated his friends, the neighborhood children, with it. Bill was not the only child who became intoxicated.
Both parents came to the court with Bill. Neither seemed unduly disturbed that he had been brought into session for drunkenness, and they could not see why they should discontinue to drink themselves or keep beer in their homes.
The results of a survey on drinking among teenagers, some years ago in Nassau County, New York, showed that 90 per cent of them drank to some extent, although most of them said they drank only “moderately.” The ages that these young people began drinking were under 16. It was found that most of the parents drank also. The child of abstaining mothers and fathers tended to abstain, and the child of parents who drank moderately or excessively was inclined to follow suit. Such findings would seem to contradict the notion that children of parents who are teetotalers and who forbid drinking are most likely to drink to excess.
When we realize that today’s alcoholic was most likely yesterday’s social drinker, and that alcohol is to many people a habit-forming beverage, how can intelligent and wise parents set an example that encourages sons and daughters to drink?
J. Edgar Hoover states that at FBI headquarters crime statistics from all over the United States are collected and analyzed. They show that in small towns as well as in big cities there is a disturbing increase in juvenile delinquency and that curative measures must be devised and applied immediately. In Hoover’s opinion, parents in almost every case are to blame for the development of young criminals. Investigations show that neglect, unhappiness, insecurity, parental conflict, drunkenness or other bad influences in the home are usually the cause of children getting into trouble.
One morning two boys, one 18 and the other 19, stood up in the dock of the criminal session of our court and pleaded guilty when their names were called. They had been arrested on the Newburyport turnpike the night before for driving perilously and under the influence of liquor. Their heads were bandaged and their faces swollen. But the occupants of the car into which they had crashed were lying in the hospital in a serious condition. After having stopped to drink at a wayside tavern they had got into their car and had driven off. With super confidence and a great desire to speed, coupled with lessened ability for quick reaction, they collided with another car at an intersection. The outcome was tragedy.
Examining the probation officer’s cards at the bench, I discovered that both of these boys had piled up long juvenile records before they were 17. Their case histories showed that there was drinking in the home, and that there was no proper supervision of the boys as to companions, the movies they saw, the comics and literature they read, the hour they came home at night, or questions asked as to where they had spent their time. No wonder we must ask ourselves, “Is it a matter of delinquent children or delinquent parents?”
In a survey made by the American Businessmen’s Research Foundation of Chicago, which is neither “wet” or “dry” but concerned with discovering and publishing the truth, figures showed that 1. “Crimes induced by or directly related to drinking alcoholic beverages have increased 28.6 per cent in the 25 years since the repeal of the Prohibition Amendment. Arrests for drunkenness have increased from 1,490 to 1,939 per 100,000 population; arrests for drunken driving have soared 207 per cent. Crime not basically stemming from the use of alcohol rose only 9.6 per cent. 2. Insanity attributable to alcohol increased in this period three times more than that of other mental disease cases. 3. The number of dependent children cases have doubled, rising from 15 per 100,000 to 30. 4. Alcoholism has increased. The number of those who cannot drink unless they drink to drunkenness has increased 68 per cent since repeal.… In 1934 there were 2,808 alcoholics per 100,000 adult Americans: in 1956 there were 4,718.”
During the 27 years I have been judge in the criminal and juvenile sessions of our district court, I have had hundreds of cases brought before me where the husbands have deserted their wives and children. I would say that in a great majority of these cases liquor has been the chief cause of difficulty.
The National Desertion Bureau gave testimony to the Senate subcommittee to the effect that there are over 4 million estranged mothers and children who are not being adequately supported by the absent fathers. Aid to Dependent Children, commonly called ADC, was being given to 936,000 mothers and children at an approximate cost of 252,000,000 dollars annually in federal, state, and local funds.
The cost to our state and nation, however, cannot be reckoned in money alone. Fatherless homes are not normal homes, and frequently they produce children who add to the juvenile delinquency rate of our communities. Although the exact percentage cannot be accurately determined, sociologists have said that 85 per cent of our delinquents come from broken homes.
One has only to visit the sessions of the divorce court in his county to learn how frequently liquor is given as the cause of abusive treatment, the ground on which the libelant is seeking to secure a divorce from her husband. Almost countless divorce actions are brought on the ground of “gross and habitual use of intoxicating liquor.”
The increase in mental conflict and divorce during the last 20 or 30 years was emphasized by Richard Glendennen, executive director of the Senate Subcommittee on Juvenile Delinquency. He said that the situation arising as the result of broken homes is one of the major causes of the delinquency of our youth. Boys who were deprived of their fathers during the war years often became delinquent. The Gluecks have found that a large percentage of boys falling into serious trouble have had no real father in their lives. Today the Big Brother Movement is doing fine work in trying to be of help in such cases. The same may be said of the Big Sister Movement. We are appalled at the figures that show the increase in liquor drinking among women. Children need the loving care and protection of both a mother and a father.
I remember the imploring and terrified face of a 10 year-old girl who had been brought into the juvenile session with her five younger brothers and sisters as neglected children. The father was in jail for drunkenness, the mother was spending time with her drinking cronies in taverns, and the little 10 year-old “mother” had been trying to hold the family together. Because conditions became so serious, neighbors finally reported the case to the police. The children were taken away from the mother temporarily which gave her a sufficient jolt that she began to mend her ways.
A fairly recent survey showed that traffic in alcoholic liquors was spending at the rate of 250 million dollars a year in the most deceptive and glamorous advertising of liquor, wine, and beer ever conceived by the mind of men. More and more this advertising is aimed at the home. When I look at the fascinating appearance of the young people in magazine ads as they are portrayed sipping their wine, beer, or cocktails, I remember the drunk in the dock who had to be hurried downstairs because he had the DT’s and continued making hideous outcries. I recall, too, the blowsy-looking young woman who, sitting beside the woman probation officer in front of the bench, had been picked up by the police from the floor of her apartment the night before, drunk. I would judge that once she might have looked glamorous, even a “lady of distinction” as Calvert distiller company would say.
Why right-thinking parents do not boycott the product of TV, radio, and magazine advertisers who put money above human welfare, I certainly do not know. Do these advertisers forget that we take with us when we die only what we have given to God and in service to our fellow man?
We all know that there are some people who are capable of drinking in moderation. With others alcohol is a habit-forming drug, and for reasons either physical or psychological they are in danger of the lost weekend. I heartily agree with Professor Roland H. Bainton of Yale Divinity School who says that for the sake of such people, those who can drink without excess should abstain and create a social environment where abstinence is not an act of courage but accepted behavior.
My experience as a probation officer for women and girls in western Massachusetts and later as associate justice of a district court in criminal and juvenile sessions has instilled in me a firm conviction that alcohol is very dangerous stuff to tamper with. Because it is habit-forming in a tremendous number of cases, why should sensible persons talk about being temperate? No one knows whether he or she is a potential alcoholic.
As a general rule, the desire or urge to drink liquor builds up in one over a period of time. With some people, however, a craving for alcohol starts immediately. For example, a woman member of AA who has helped me in my work had never taken a drink of alcohol until she was 45. At that time she went on a week’s trip to Bermuda with a party of friends. Refusing all drinks at first, she finally consented at their insistence. The first drink, she told me, set up an insatiable thirst for more, and in a short time she became an alcoholic. Rescued through AA, she has been of inestimable help to many unfortunates since her own reclamation.
Ann Landers, noted columnist for a nation-wide newspaper syndicate, has helped thousands of people through her “Advice” column. Recently she made this statement: “Most women who say they must take a drink to be sociable are only kidding themselves. You will have to go a long way to find one who is more sociable than I am. Yet I have never needed liquor as a crutch. When I attend cocktail parties, as I often do, I merely say, ‘ginger ale, please!’ And I am not the least bit uncomfortable. A woman, young or old, who is able to say ‘no’ so that it sounds like ‘no’ and not ‘maybe’ should have no problems.”
Prohibition may have been a failure, but not such a dismal one as was its repeal. Wayne D. Williams pointed out in his article on alcoholism in the Christian Century (Nov. 5, 1958) that “there is a job of moral instruction to be done if the Nation’s drinking habits are to be changed. There can be no surrender to alcoholism. The worsening problem of liquor can be solved if law, school, and church join in a positive approach to it.”
Dr. Gerald O. McCulloh of the General Board of Education of the Methodist Church clarifies the entire matter for the Christian: “Any indulgence of self which obstructs the Christian life is destructive of the human spirit.”
It is our duty as parents to build a Christian home and to put religion into the lives of our children. In these days of stress and strain it is glaringly obvious that all of us, young and old, need God in our lives. We need the Rock to cling to. Children brought up in today’s world without the solace and strength which religion gives them are cheated of their birthright. Members of Alcoholics Anonymous have learned that in moments of temptation they must turn to a Higher Power for help and that they must then thank that Power in recognition of the sustaining strength they have received.
Judge Emma Fall Schofield, 27 years an Associate Justice of the First District Court of Eastern Middlesex County, Massachusetts, was the first woman in New England to sit on the bench and the first to serve as Assistant Attorney General. She holds the degrees of A.B., LL.B. cum laude, and LL.M. from Boston University. She received the Ed.D. from Calvin Coolidge College and the J.D. from Portia Law School.
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