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It's senior week in Ocean City. This rite of passage, whereby newly minted high school graduates pile in cars and cross the Bay Bridge for their first true taste of independence, is considered by some students as significant to the high school experience as SAT prep courses and college visits. Certainly, scores of high school seniors anticipate the event as much or more than any other leg of their high school journey. Many parents rationalize the getaway as a well-deserved week of respite from the rigors of academic pressure their teenagers have endured for four years. But senior week introduces college-bound freshman to perhaps the single biggest obstacle to academic success: binge drinking.

Whether parents turn a blind eye to the debauchery that occurs during senior week or buy their kids booze for the occasion, the results are generally the same: A lot of overindulgence and little responsibility taken for whatever happens next. That "whatever" can range from innocent flirting and lots of laughter — though the source of that laughter is often forgotten the day after — to tragic and criminal events.

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Consider this: An overwhelming 95 percent of violent crime on college campuses involves the use of alcohol by the assailant, victim or both, according to National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence. Recent crimes on college campuses bear this out.

The heavily-publicized 2010 murder of University of Virginia senior and lacrosse player Yeardley Love by her on-again-off-again boyfriend George Huguely V, also a senior and lacrosse player at UVA, occurred after he had been drinking throughout the day. Mr. Huguely admitted to having at least 15 drinks throughout the day before breaking into his ex-girlfriend's room in the early morning hours; an autopsy found Love's blood alcohol level to be about twice the legal limit.

This March, 20-year-old former Stanford University swimmer Brock Turner was convicted of assault with intent to rape an intoxicated/unconscious person, penetration of an intoxicated person with a foreign object, and penetration of an unconscious person with a foreign object. The assault occurred by a dumpster in the dirt on the campus of Stanford University. Both victim and the perpetrator had been drinking heavily prior to the incident.

While not every college student who binge drinks commits or becomes the victim of a heinous crime, most do engage in regrettable behavior — much of which they can't recall after the intoxication wears off. What's more, the negative consequences of binge drinking can have lasting, deleterious effects on college students' academic performance. In one national survey, a full quarter of college students reported having academic problems as a result of alcohol use, according to The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism Task Force on College Drinking. That should come as no surprise: While students are consuming copious amounts of alcohol, they're obviously too impaired to study. And recovering from a hangover can take hours, or even a 24-hour period, during which students feel too ill to concentrate on studying.

Given this sobering scenario, it's unclear why parents — oftentimes still reeling from the sting of signing checks or loans worth tens of thousands of dollars to pay for their children's first semester for college — condone their high school graduates' participation in this modern-day Bacchanalia otherwise known as senior week. My best guess is because "everybody else is doing it," and by this stage in a parent's life, it's easier to acquiesce than argue with a teenager who, after all, is going to be living independently at college in a few months. Besides, parents may think: How much harm can one week cause? But it's not necessarily the length of time kids spend at senior week that's troublesome. It's the seed it plants in college-bound students' minds: that recreational time should naturally be spent ingesting vast amounts of alcohol.

Rather than give in to senior week, parents could suggest (or insist on) alternatives: a family vacation that plays to their kids' passions, a volunteer stint in foreign country, an internship at a dream workplace, an early jump on a summer job to defray pending college expenses. Getting a high school graduate to embrace an alternative to senior week is a graduation gift worth giving.

Elizabeth Heubeck (eheubeck@gmail.com) is a Towson-based freelance writer.

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