A Real 'Teenage Wasteland': What Would You Do?

Would passersby react to seemingly underage teens drinking in public?

ByEamon Mcniff
December 30, 2010, 12:24 PM

Jan. 11, 2011 — -- Underage drinking has become a popular form of entertainment. The Internet is overflowing with videos of teens bragging and showing off their ability to chug or funnel massive amounts of alcohol. Reality shows like MTV's "Jersey Shore" highlight the cast's daily alcoholic excesses -- though the cast members are all of legal drinking age, many of their fans are not.

And it isn't all fist bumps and games. DWI accidents take thousands of young lives each year and account for 60 percent of all teen car accident deaths. And the CDC says people who begin drinking before the age of 15 are more prone to committing homicide or suicide, poor school performance and risky sexual behaviors.

So we wanted to see how society would react when confronted with underage drinking. We set up cameras in downtown Montclair, N.J. and had a group of actors portray four underage teens standing out on a public street drinking what appeared to be cans of beer -- in reality, the sanitized cans were filled with ginger ale -- in brown paper bags.

Perhaps it's because underage drinking is so common, but when we had our actors -- three guys and one girl -- simply drinking and engaging in chugging contests, most people simply walked past them. One woman walked past with her young daughter laughing, and a man gave one of our actors a low five.

Teens Get Rowdy

Yet as our teens' behavior grew louder and more rowdy, and they began falling over themselves, we noticed some passersby appear to grow concerned.

John Curtis Jr. walked past with several people and could be clearly seen on our cameras stopping and looking for help as the teens tried to hold up our stumbling actress. Curtis appeared to continue on his way, but it turned out he was just moving away from the scene to call police for help.

"I'm a former school principal, and I worked with teenagers, and kids like that, and I see, you know, Saturday morning, kids out drinking beer, and all the wrong things were happening," Curtis said after we let him know it was all part of "What Would You Do?"

Curtis said the teens appeared so drunk he was worried that stopping and getting in their faces would only escalate the situation.

"I didn't really want to set up a confrontation, you know? So I wanted to get the authorities here and get some help to the situation," he said.

The majority of people who noticed our teens, however, seemed reluctant to get personally involved at all. So we asked our 16-year-old actress Jillian to up the ante by appearing heavily intoxicated, unable to hold herself up or function -- and we had our three actors appearing to force her to drink more "beer." Finally, as our actress appeared to be in trouble, more bystanders began to step in.

Isabelle Alsop saw our actress being held up by our actors while they drank, and she came right over to them asking Jillian if she was okay. When our actors protested that Jillian was okay, Alsop and another man accompanying her told the boys that Jillian was not okay, and she needed to get medical help.

Our actors tried to continue partying, prompting Isabelle to call Montclair police, who were already aware of the "What Would You Do?" scenario. At that point, our actors dragged Jillian away from Isabelle, into an alleyway park behind them, but Isabelle wouldn't let them out of her sight, and followed right behind them.

More Take Action When Teen Girl Appears Headed for Trouble

"I just wanted to make sure she was OK," Alsop told "What Would You Do?" anchor John Quinones afterward.

"She could have a seizure, she could throw up, and choke and die, she could be raped," she said.

And it wasn't just Isabelle Alsop who took action. As soon as Jillian appeared to be in trouble and the teens' drinking appeared totally out of control, other people either called the police or directly confronted the group.

Abigail Harris ran across the street with her young daughter when she saw our actress fall onto the sidewalk. Harris jumped in the guys' faces, grabbing the beer cans out of their hands.

"You can't drink," Harris exclaimed before grabbing hold of our actress to make sure she was okay.

When John Quinones asked Harris if she was worried the guys might turn on her, she laughed.

"They're young kids," she said. "I wasn't scared for my life. I was scared for the little girl."

Harris said she felt it was her duty as a mother to step up and stop the underage drinking.

"That's just being a mom, and a concerned adult," Harris said.

Watch the scenario unfold Friday at 9 p.m. ET on "What Would You Do?"

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