Here in the U.S. we have had a long and generally miserable relationship with alcohol. We have tried to outlaw it, we have tried to tax it to death, we have tried to both glorify and demonize it simultaneously, and we have failed miserably in establishing a healthy relationship with this long-lasting element of human life.
The majority of Americans consume alcohol occasionally. For some odd reason, we have arbitrarily decided that our children can drive at 16 or 17, vote and go to war at 18, but not purchase or partake of alcohol until 21 years of age. As a result, our children have become highly motivated to get their hands on this elusive beverage to see what the fuss is all about.
Personally, I think 21 is ridiculous. But, it is what it is. Our job as parents, if we do choose to consume alcohol, is to teach our children what it is, what place it should serve in our lives, and how to use it responsibly.
When children are simply told not to drink, they are left to teach each other. Moreover, they are forced to consume it in short bursts of time, as much as they can, whenever and wherever they can. Is it any wonder we have such a problem with binge drinking in this country?
Now this advice is not meant for you parents who like to sit around and smoke pot with your kids or get drunk with your kids. I am not talking to you. You are setting an example of addiction and self-destruction and need a completely different set of rules to play by. I am talking to the average parent, who drinks occasionally, and would prefer that their child grow up to either not drink at all or drink on occasion.
I chose to demystify alcohol with my daughter. When she was very young, if she was curious about what was in my glass, I dipped my finger in and let her have a taste. The result? Ewwwwwww!!!!! Perfect. Just what I was hoping for. Alcohol is, after all, an acquired taste. You really have to want to like it. Since she had the opportunity to not like it early on, she really had no interest in acquiring the taste until much later in her teen years.
By the time she was 16, if she so desired, she would be allowed a quarter glass of wine at special family occasions. This made her feel like she was a part of the occasion and also allowed her to not only observe responsible consumption, but take part in it. When she was 18, she was allowed a half glass.
I never allowed her to host or attend any teen parties. This is not responsible drinking. A sip with the family, on a special occasion, in my opinion, is.
When she went off to college, she had a very clear idea of the use of alcohol. It is a great beverage. It is meant to make you feel good. It is meant to be enjoyed. It is not meant to make you sick or lose your sense of yourself or your surroundings. She was also clearly instructed that underage consumption outside of our home and without my permission, is still, whether any of us agreed or not, against the law and never worth risking her future.
She was lucky to go to a university that described themselves as “not a dry campus.” The school would tolerate responsible drinking. In other words, if you didn’t make a fool out of yourself, they would leave you alone. I was happy for her, because while I didn’t personally mind her having a drink at 19 or 20 years old, I certainly didn’t think it was worth the risk of having any charges on her record.
During those years, she had the opportunity to watch her peers binge drink, experiencing alcohol poisoning regularly, getting violently ill and otherwise acting very foolishly. She was very proud of herself that she never saw the need for more than one simple glass of wine. She would laugh, dance and enjoy herself. And then sleep over at a friend’s room.
I was proud that she never had to learn the hard way the dangers of alcohol abuse. She never drove, or rode in a car with someone who was, intoxicated.
We have a choice when it comes to alcohol education. We can “just say no.” Or we can actively educate our kids about this common part of our lives. I’m not in any way suggesting drinking with your kids, hosting teen parties, or ever serving other people’s kids. But if we stop making such a big deal out of something that really is a simple pleasure in life, our kids can learn how to incorporate alcohol as a small, but pleasurable part of life as well.
- Binge Drinking (jackdavis13.wordpress.com)
- Binge drinking, even in your 20s, triggers the beginnings of heart disease (dailymail.co.uk)
- Reality-Based Alcohol Education (potsdam.edu)
- A Social Norms Approach to Preventing Binge Drinking at Colleges and Universities (socialnorms.org)
- Should parents teach their children to drink? (theweek.com)