Online debate rages over teen vodka death

The alcohol-related death of James Webster has fuelled a passionate debate about youth drinking in NZ. File photo / Bay of Plenty Times
The alcohol-related death of James Webster has fuelled a passionate debate about youth drinking in NZ. File photo / Bay of Plenty Times

Online debate over teen drinking issues continues to rage, days after a Kings College student died from an apparent vodka overdose.

Sixteen-year-old James Webster died in his sleep at the weekend after drinking vodka at a friend's house under parent supervision.

Many nzherald.co.nz Your Views readers have condemned New Zealand's drinking culture while discussion on liquor laws and parental supervision of teen drinkers has also been hotly debated.

Maria said she had been made a "social outcast" for not drinking: "Alcohol is a curse ... Because I do not drink I've experienced being a 'social outcast'."

SylviaLea recalled similar experiences: "I'm often asked by people I barely know whether I'm extremely religious or have an illness (the only reasons people can think of for me never getting drunk while drinking). This is the culture we've created, New Zealand."

The debate focused on how tough legislation should be, and how parents should supervise and teach their teenage children.

Judy made a plea for tough legislation to stigmatise drinking: "Legislation has made smoking unpopular, it is no longer cool to smoke. Let's do the same with binge drinking."

Alex disagreed, saying without alcohol teenagers would simply turn to something else: "It is a rite of passage for young people to rebel and if you curb the alcohol they'll simply do more dangerous things to control the ennui of their teenage life ... The culture needs to change, not the freedom."

KB said youth drinking was already an act of rebellion: "We drink like crazy people in this country when young cos we are told we are not allowed to."

Having her parents teach her how to drink responsibly helped her while growing up, Olly wrote: "Dad made it clear to me that spirits were harmful, and I was better off having a few beers. I have to appreciate the fact that my parents moved with the times and allowed me to experiment (a little). Thanks mum and Dad. I am a former student of Kings."

On Facebook, a tribute page to James had to be removed and restarted after people posted abusive comments.

"If there is anymore abuse, contact the admins immediately. Very sad I have to say this," the page now warns.

On Monday, students reminisced on the site about drinking sessions with James, sparking debate. James's cousin Genevieve Kinraid wrote that such messages added to her pain.

"After my beautiful cousin getting drunk and dieing i do not recommend putting up memories of u and james getting drunk together."

Since then, tributes have flowed in both from friends and the wider public.

Josiah Elder wrote: "Miss you so much already bro. I still cant believe you're gone. Ignore the haters and rest in peace "

Jeannie Burnside wrote: "you will be very much missed James I will never forget the years in Thames I spent with you xxx"

Lana Webster, in Wellington, posted memories of James on a separate website, A Memory Tree

"i remember sitting with james, drawing pictures of eachother with out new pencils and sketch books from santa :P, he wanted to be an architecture just like me, and we sat drawing eachother talking about what schools are the best and what buildings we would design. when we swapped drawings to see how eachother had done, they were soo bad we teared them up haha it was soo funny. miss you james," she wrote.

Teen drinking - not just New Zealand's problem

The issue of teen drinking has been talked about all over the internet.

One site asked its readers: Why do teenagers drink?

Schneed wrote that it was mostly peer pressure, while Anti said beer commercials also contributed: "They make it look cool to drink."

Meanwhile, a United States school has introduced breath tests to the traditional teenage party Prom night.

"The goal is not to catch students, the goal is to prevent them from coming to the dance inebriated," said Mark Tashjian, headmaster at Burr and Burton.

The Girl Talk blog featured this horrific tale of teen drinking:

"In One Moment It All Changed - I went to high school with a girl who started drinking at the very young age 14. She hung out with an older crowd, and many other students thought that she was really cool and exciting.

Everyone wanted to hang out with her, and she was invited to every party.

One Saturday night at a bonfire party she got really drunk and got too close to the bonfire. Her clothes caught fire and she was engulfed by flames. I have never heard screaming like that in all my life.

Most people at the party froze in shock and horror, thankfully somebody at the party was able to react and grabbed a blanket out of the trunk of a car (let's not even start on how scary it is that some of us were actually intending to drive after drinking) and put out the flames but not before she had suffered third degree burns on most of her body."

- NZ Herald staff

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