Written by Dr. Steve Whitaker, Head of School

Penn State has indefinitely halted fraternity and sorority parties where alcohol is available because of a student’s recent death and what the school calls “growing allegations of hazing, sexual assault and other misconduct.”

Our children are a gift from God and, as parents, we want to do all we can to provide safeguards in their lives. Today I want to talk about a guardrail that could be lifesaving for our sons and daughters.

One of my favorite speakers on RightNow Media is Andy Stanley. In his series entitled “Guardrails,” he explains that these roadside barriers are simply there for the protection of motorists. They don’t exist to make life miserable. They are there to keep us safe.

He suggests that guardrails should be established in our personal lives to serve as a standard of behavior that becomes a matter of conscience. The following short story provides a background for one important guardrail in my life.

The driving wind and bitterly cold temperatures created a dangerous environment that morning as my father drove slowly through downtown Chicago. He stopped when he thought he had reached the area of town he was looking for. It was from this street that he had received his last letter from his dad. The locals called it Skid Row – the place where addicts gathered and where many breathed their final breath. He watched as an ambulance picked up the lifeless corpses of men and women who had succumbed to the sub zero temperatures the night before. He thought to himself, That could have been my dad.

From an early age he watched the fabric of his family rip apart. His was a life of poverty, sadness, neglect, and heartache. His parents’ marriage failed because of alcoholism and a variety of other problems. All three of his siblings saw their marriages follow the same pattern because of inadequate guardrails. His life was different, however, thanks to the power of the Gospel and the important guardrails he established early in his walk with Christ.

One of the personal guardrails I’ve established in my life is to avoid alcohol. Andy Stanley has chosen to do the same. My personal choice not to drink isn’t based on a narrow religious conviction. I made the decision because of the the story above. I have required the same of my children as they grow up because I believe it will have an adverse impact on them during their formative years. I’ve watched countless marriages destroyed and I’ve seen young lives irreparably harmed as a result of alcohol during my 25 years of working in schools.

For those who encourage underage drinking at home as a means of teaching temperance, there is compelling research we may want to consider. A recent National Institute for Health study showed that “exposing the adolescent to alcohol may interrupt key processes of brain development, possibly leading to mild cognitive impairment as well as to further escalation of drinking.” The same study, in conjunction with the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, said that underage drinking is more likely to kill young people than all other illegal drugs combined.

The choice to drink or abstain is a personal one. I respect those adults who differ with me. At the same time, I want to plead with parents to understand the dangers associated with underage drinking. As a school community, we must promise to protect all children at all times. Looking the other way while adolescents consume alcohol under our watch is reckless behavior to say the least.

Together we can make a difference by resisting the pressure of the culture that forces our children to make adult decisions. Together we can forge these guardrails for our children. There will come a time and place for them to wrestle with this issue. But let’s agree that it won’t be during their school age years at The First Academy.

During the next few weeks we will be having additional conversations with our older students about the importance of this particular guardrail. We will also be talking with them about our expectations as a school and the consequences surrounding these important choices. This communication will occur in several venues including chapel, House Groups, and athletics. Most importantly, we will continue pointing your students toward Jesus and carefully building guardrails along the road that leads to Him (Matthew 7:14).

As always, thank you for the opportunity to serve your family. We look forward to a wonderful journey through the remainder of this school year.