Only days ago, 15-year-old Sydney teen Paris Kamper was found unconscious, alongside a bottle of alcohol.
She wasn’t in a park. Or at a party. She hadn’t snuck into a pub with friends.
She was at home. Alone.
Teens and alcohol is not a new story. For as long as there have been teenagers, pulsating with hormones and the desire to rebel, alcohol has been ready and rearing to step up to the plate.”Take my hand,” that bottle of Passion Pop seemed to whisper, “And I’ll show you a good time.”
Teens of the ’80s and ’90s had the park and the (limited) information shared by friends. Kids today are increasingly losing that safety net. They don’t need to ‘experiment’. They can find out exactly what to drink, and how much, to achieve obliteration. With enough resourcefulness and opportunism, a whole world of alcohol unfolds. And they don’t even need to leave their bedrooms.
Tragedy in the suburbs
On Monday afternoon, as other families gathered to celebrate the June 11 Queen’s Birthday holiday, Paris’ family switched off her life support. The keen horse rider, popular student and “lovely young girl” from the semi-rural suburb of Kenthurst in Sydney’s north-west had succumbed to alcohol poisoning.
“The information we have is that she was quite a character, quite a free-spirited young girl, who was well respected and well liked,” says Hills Police Area Command Superintendent Rob Crithlow.
“She was deeply engaged in her animals, she had chickens and horses and other livestock on her semi rural property.”
While reports have not yet confirmed exactly WHAT the cocktail Paris created contained, energy drinks, an empty bottle of alcohol and lollies were found at her home. It is believed the popular teen drank a potent cocktail made using a recipe found online.
A new era for alcohol
When Paris was admitted to Westmead Children’s Hospital, her blood alcohol content was 0.40. To put that in perspective, the legal driving limit for a fully grown adult is 0.05.
Speaking to the media, Supt Crithlow described the incident a “tragic and ill-informed experimentation”. “The family are deeply in shock, they’ve had a terrible weekend of course… doctors and nursing staff did their best to keep her alive, the young lady was under sedation across the weekend and it was clear on Sunday that she wasn’t going to recover,” he told reporters,
Supt Crithlow says police are investigating an online video that gave instructions on how to consume excessive amounts of alcohol.
“Anyone who thinks that making an instructional video on how to consume excessive amounts of alcohol in a dangerous manner is sensible or desirable, they are wrong and they need to stop it.”
Her gutted family say Paris had little experience with alcohol. Her friends, posting on social media, expressed their shock and grief. Yet the fact remains that a 15-year-old child managed to drink enough alcohol to end up with a blood alcohol level of EIGHT TIMES the legal limit for driving.
“The young girl has died alone, in a place that should be safe and it’s really pointless, there’s no need for this.” Supt Crithlow
The YouTube guide to drinking
This is where the real message lies for parents. Drinking behaviour has a ripe and ready partner in the internet and it’s awash with advice and how-to’s on getting drunk. Type “How to get drunk” into YouTube and there’s more than 8,600,000 results. The top billings go to “how to get drunk in 60 seconds” and “how to get drunk faster”, but there’s also plenty of ‘advice’ on how to drink undetected.
“The internet is a blessing in so many ways but it provides access to a whole pile of information you don’t necessarily want young people to access,” says Paul Dillon from Drug and Alcohol Research and Training Australia (DARTA). “Some of the information is particularly dangerous and it’s incredibly difficult to police.”
What does this mean for parents?
“It’s very rare to hear young people say they drink alone,” Paul tells Mum Central. “The whole thing about drinking is that it’s done to help you socialise. It’s done with friends.”
What this tragedy CAN provide is the opportunity for parents to discuss the dangers of alcohol with their kids.
“Many young women can relate to a 15-year-old girl who drinks,” says Paul. “Alcohol is potentially a very dangerous substance and young people need to be aware that things can go wrong.”
Paul’s best advice for parents? “The best way to keep your kids as safe as possible is to monitor them. Know where they are, what they’re doing and who they’re with.” And that goes for both online and in real life.
He says there is a tendency to dismiss alcohol as a lesser threat than ‘harder’ drugs. But with one 14-17 year old dying every weekend due to alcohol, this is not a mistake to make. Paul is very blunt:
“Alcohol can kill young people, we need to remember that. Opening up a conversation with teens and role-modelling the behaviour we hope to see is the single best way to try and avoid alcohol related issues and further tragedy.”
Need more advice for raising teens? Check out our expert advice for setting boundaries and dealing with the trials and tribulations of teens.