Faith had reached her breaking point. After enduring months of cyber bullying, the young teen learned that an online admirer wasn’t an admirer at all — but a classmate playing a cruel prank. She swiped a bottle of tequila from her grandfather’s bar, jumped into a truck parked on her family’s property, and sped off, only to lose control of the vehicle as she reached for the alcohol stashed in the passenger seat.
This was the scene that unfolded on Monday’s episode of “The Young and the Restless,” now in its 46th season on CBS. The most-watched daytime drama follows the lives of fictional families in a TV-version of Genoa City, Wisconsin. Yet at Mothers Against Drunk Driving, we know all too well the real-life consequences of underage alcohol use, which kills 4,300 young people every year. One in four car crashes with a teenage driver involves alcohol.
Josh Griffith, co-executive producer and head writer for “The Young and the Restless,” described Faith’s journey as a socially relevant, dramatic story that also packs an important message. The daytime drama worked with MADD to produce a public service announcement that followed Monday’s episode, in which actor Joshua Morrow directs viewers to madd.org for more information about underage drinking. Morrow plays Faith’s father, Nicholas Newman, on the series.
“Faith is tough on the outside but still very young, very fragile, and developing emotionally,” said Griffith, who considered how the character might react if a peer encouraged her to try alcohol to deal with her problems. “What’s the logical outcome of this? It’s a valuable, teachable lesson.”
This is the second time “The Young and the Restless” has partnered with MADD. The show produced a PSA in 2005 following an episode in which a young character was killed in a drunk driving crash.
Monday’s episode falls at a particularly timely moment, as MADD prepares to kick off PowerTalk21® on April 1, a program that equips parents with resources to have vital, intentional conversations with their kids about the dangers of underage drinking and other drugs. Our research here at MADD has shown that parents are the No. 1 influence on their child’s decisions about drugs and alcohol.
MADD has designated April 1 through May 31 as PowerTalk21® Season in observation of Alcohol Awareness Month in April and Teen Driver Safety Month in May. These months are also filled with milestone events such as spring break, prom and graduation, occasions that can increase the presence of alcohol and other drugs. COVID-19 has saddled teens with additional stresses; as teens regather in social situations, these conversations are as critical as ever. Throughout the next two months, MADD staff and volunteers across the country will host events in their communities and online to provide resources and information to parents about the dangers of underage drinking and drug use.
While one in four crashes with teenagers involve an underage drunk driver, young people don’t have to get behind the wheel for alcohol to be deadly or have lifelong consequences. Three out of four teen alcohol deaths don’t involve a vehicle, and underage drinking can lead to early addiction and many other dangerous outcomes. The choice to wait until at least age 21 to consume alcohol can be, quite literally, lifesaving, and have lifelong benefits. For example, young people who wait until age 21 are 85% less likely to become drunk drivers later in life.
“I’m hoping people will really take a serious look at how dangerous underage drinking can be,” said Griffith. “There are horrible consequences. We can never let up on putting that message out there.”