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Just days before Sylvania Schools hosts its senior prom -- an event known for all-night partying -- Drs. Brian and Cynthia Hoeflinger spoke to parents about the risks associated with alcohol and the increasing practice of binge drinking among teenagers.
The Ottawa Hills couple know full well excessive drinking's impact on life and families. Their son Brian Hoeflinger, 18, died in a car crash Feb. 1, 2013 after a night of drinking vodka in the basement of a friend’s home, while the parents were upstairs. That night Brian lost control of his car and it struck a roadside tree.
“The reason why we started doing this is because of the outpouring we received from you,” Dr. Brian Hoeflinger told the audience Thursday at the last of three town-hall forums hosted by the Sylvania Community Action Team at the Sylvania Senior Center. Two previous forums in the past two months described youth drug use in the Sylvania area.
Shortly after Brian’s death, the pair banded together to speak out against underage and excessive drinking. The couple has brought their message to schools and other communities, and also appeared on the Katie Couric Show.
"If you could feel that pain [of losing a child] for one moment, it would change your mind about drinking alcohol, especially teenagers,” Dr. Hoeflinger said.
The lights dimmed and a young Brian flashed on the screen. Photos of happy moments on the basketball court, on vacation with his family, or swinging a golf club appeared in the slide show. Then the screen went dark, and a wrecked car appeared, followed by Brian in his casket, and then his gravestone.
The Hoeflingers have become well versed in the language of drinking, learning how children hide things and what goes on when teenagers are alone. Their son’s death awakened them to societal norm of binge drinking and the weakness of Ohio Social Host laws. Brian, they said, was binge drinking that night.
“I should have a reasonable expectation that the parents at the house were watching him,” she said.
All the barriers to underage drinking were unblocked that day, Brian and his friends even bought the bottle of vodka without identification checks. She warned parents that they cannot rely on parents to care for their children.
“You need to communicate with the other parents,” she said, adding that she now knows which parents allow children to drink.
On the screen flashed numerous statistics. One said that 70 percent of college students binge drink. For males, that's five or more drinks in an hour or two, and for females it's four or more.
The couple told attendees that teens find alcohol and marijuana readily available.
“They are kids. They don't want you to know what is going on. Keep your guard up and suspect they are doing it. And if they are not, their friends are. There is just too much out there,” Dr. Brian Hoeflinger said.
But locking children up in their rooms is not a solution, they said.
Instead, they urged parents to keep reaffirming that drinking is unhealthy, and have rules in place and uphold those rules when broken.
“Telling our story is an opportunity to change things, to get the message to kids and open up a dialogue between parents and children,” he said.
Abby Agard, a 17-year-old Bedford High School student, said the Hoeflingers' information about drugs' and alcohol's availability rang true for her. She said she often is not invited to parties because peers know she doesn't drink.
One parent told the pair that their talk is having a positive effect, saying her daughter took their advice and stopped hanging out with friends who drink.
“She stayed home a lot at first, but then she made new friends, and now she is happy,” said the woman, who did not identify herself.
The Hoeflingers also brought their message to Southview and Northview High School students last week, telling them the lasting effects of one bad decision.