Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Binge Drinking & St. Patrick's Day

What do the Whiskey Priest, Lucky Mint Coolattas from Dunkin' Donuts and copious amounts of vomit have in common? Answer: St. Patrick’s Day in Boston, for families a disappointing rated-R experience. St. Patrick’s Day in the city potentially exposes children to dangerous levels of intoxication and resulting questionable behavior (i.e., public urination, fights, swearing, etc.). We love Boston. We like shamrocks. (A fun fact is that rumors suggest the shamrock was used by St. Patrick to represent the holy trinity.) And who doesn't want a pot of gold? Amongst our combined 12 ethnic backgrounds, our family is part Irish, so please do not think we are being St. Patrick's Day Scrooges. We are not trying to rain in anyone’s Lucky Charms but suggest if your goal is cultural entertainment, beware the Boston St. Patrick's Day celebrations.

Of course some unadulterated, culturally-based St. Patrick's Day celebrations do occur in Boston, such as the St.Patrick’s Day festivities at the Children’s Museum. Mostly, however, the holiday is an excuse to binge drink, so much so that it is nearly impossible to travel in the city without witnessing inappropriate behavior. The MBTA and streets alike swarm with highly intoxicated party-goers, their spilled beer, antics that include such traditions as "Erin Go Bra-less" and eventually their vomit. Thus even if drinking is not on your agenda, it is hard to avoid the thousands of people who are badly intoxicated.

Looking at the Shamrock Another Way

The literature is rife regarding the impacts of adolescent binge drinking amongst high school and college students, as well as the impacts on infants of maternal binge drinking. However, less noted is the impact on young children of witnessing binge drinking. Still we are able to document at least a triad (or shamrock) of concerns in regards to binge drinking on St. Patrick's Day.

In 2010 the BBC conducted a study and reported 30% of children are scared of adults drinking.[1] A personal anecdote about an early memory of inappropriate adult drinking is from seven years of age witnessing a man pass out on the beach in Florida. More than two decades later, the scene and feeling of fright are vivid. The incident was an anomaly on an otherwise benign public beach that could not have predicted and subsequently avoided. St. Patrick's Day in Boston on the other hand is predictably troublesome. The Boston Police Department reported in 2013 at the St. Patrick’s Day parade in South Boston alone (which by the way, if you live under the Blarney Stone, is under scrutiny for its anti-gay stance) they handed out 336 citations for drinking in public, made 26 arrests for disorderly conduct and there was one account of assault for “throat-kicking.”[2,3] This year, officers assigned to the parade issued 293 citations for public drinking and made five arrests, two for disorderly conduct and three for public drinking. One subject was placed in protective custody.[4] This leads to the second area of concern - the normalization of binge drinking.

Sign of the Season on Seaport Blvd
Exposure to alcohol abuse, in addition to being scary, normalizes the behavior. Children who see this type of behavior are more likely to emanate it when they are older, and according to the Boston Public Health Commission, binge drinking is the third leading cause of preventable death in the United States.[5,6] In Boston, St. Patrick’s Day coincides with a sharp spike in alcohol-related emergency department visits. Rates have steadily increased in recent years with nearly 120 alcohol-related emergency department visits on March 17-18, 2012.[6] Even though an experience seeing adults binge drink on St. Patrick's Day may be an isolated experience, in reflection later in life, a child will know their parents brought them to an event that was predictably toxic in this regard and that sends a message that the behavior is accepted on some level.

Furthermore, while an isolated experience viewing heavy intoxication presumably will not cause lasting damage to a child, poor behavior resulting from intoxication could be more traumatic. Obviously any child who witnessed the near-winner of the Darwin awards for natural selection who was injured falling off a rooftop along the parade route in 2012 may be particularly upset.[7] It is not implausible to think a child may see such a traumatic alcohol-related incident on St. Patrick's Day in Boston. The incident could be discomforting, such as a show of a stranger's private parts, or violent like a fight.

We know our own children will have experiences where they, witness heavy intoxication despite our best intentions. Still, certain days and places in Boston (in addition to St. Patrick's Day, many sports games and win celebrations) are as mentioned before predictably troublesome and avoidable.

The Southie St. Patrick's Day Parade for Children?

St. Patrick's Parade 2011, the first and last time I went
Nevertheless we understand why taking children to the parade seems like a fun idea. South Boston CAN, an organization committed to decreasing substance abuse in the neighborhood, established Family Friendly Zones along the parade route “to ensure there are safe and sober venues to watch the proceedings.” For anyone planning on attending a future parade, the Family Friendly Zones are located at The Action Center at 424 West Broadway, Old Colony at the corner of Dorchester Avenue and Rev. Burke Street and The Laboure Center at 275 West Broadway and feature face-painting and snacks.[8] Despite good intentions, we remain unconvinced these zones are able to shelter children from behavior that may be dangerous or frightening. In 2012 the Boston Police Department reported the following: 

"At about 1:10pm . . . 
officers assigned to the St. Patrick’s Day Parade . . . heard an individual cursing and swearing at them in a loud voice as they passed by . . . Given the fact that there were a large number of young children in the immediate area who were well within ear shot of the individual who displayed negligible levels of discomfort with his decision to loudly curse and swear at police officers, the decision was made to arrest the individual. Officers arrested . . . and charged him with Drinking in Public."[9]

Unfortunately, as this example demonstrates, violators of public drinking laws may be arrested for inappropriate behavior near children, but only after they have caused a problem in front of those children. It is certainly not an isolated incident either. The Rush/Doherty family who attended this year (2014) with young children was quoted in a Boston Globe article expressing concern about the level of intoxication and behavior they witnessed.[10]


St. Patrick's Day Tips for Boston Families

For anyone determined to celebrate St. Patrick's Day in the city as a family the following are thoughts for how to avoid exposing children to the binge drinking behavior that abounds.
  • Areas to avoid include South Boston, Faneuil Hall/Government Center/Downtown, and the Back Bay, which are chock full of Irish pubs and bars. Any other area in (or outside of the city) near an Irish pub, bar or parade and of course the MBTA should also be considered rated-R on March 17th.
  • Even if driving, children may be better off enjoying the forbidden entertainment of an electronic device such as a tablet, smartphone, or gaming device, lest they look out the windows at the sights.
  • Do not try to walk anywhere before noon on both March 17th and parade day (if they are not the same) and 6pm the following day as you will surely have to dodge vomit.
Oh wait those tips were not helpful? They basically told you to just avoid the city. Oops! Our family usually goes green for the holiday with a trip to the greenery of the suburbs. All we can say is if you are reading these tips and laughing at what you believe is exaggeration, you have never been in Boston for St. Patrick’s Day!

[1] Third of children 'scared' by adult drinking,” BBC News, July 5, 2010.
[2] Boston Police Arrest Numbers,” BostInno, March 18, 2013.
[3] MBTA Transit Police, “He’s No St. Patrick,” tpdnews blog, March 18, 2013. 
[4] "St. Patrick's Day Parade Update,", March 16, 2014.
[5] "Overview of Factors that Impact Binge Drinking, by Context/Domain," SAMHSA. 
[6] "Have a Safe St. Patrick's Day: Avoid Binge Drinking," Boston Public Health Commission, March 14, 2014.
[7] Man Falls From Roof During St. Pat's Parade,”, March 19, 2012.
[8] St. Patrick’s Day Parade by the Numbers,” Boston Business Journal, March 14, 2013. See also South Boston CAN.
[9] If You Got Arrested at this Year's St. Patrick’s Day Parade – You Probably Did Something to Deserve It,” Boston Police Department Official Facebook Page, March 19, 2012.
[10] Fox, Jeremy C. "Controversy Fails to Take Fun out of St. Patrick's Day Parade," The Boston Globe, March 17 2014.


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