A recent study revealed that many parents believe it is okay to provide alcohol to their children, mostly as a way to introduce them to it and, hopefully, de-mystify it. In fact, in 31 states, parents can legally serve alcohol to their children. There are pros and cons to the idea of giving one’s child alcohol at home on occasion. There is possibly some truth to the idea that exposing your children in some way to alcohol de-stigmatizes it and may, potentially, decrease their desire to use in excess at other times. There is also some other current research that says that if a child starts drinking young, as in middle school, that they are potentially at greater risk for developing a problem with alcohol later.
To add to the concern of developing a problem with drinking later, there are clear risks for teens and young adults who begin drinking early. Drinking can do long -term harm to a developing brain, particularly in areas involved in planning, decision-making, and impulse control. Additionally, teens who drink alcohol are at greater risk for being involved in motor vehicle accident, and accidents of any kind, suicides, physical altercations, unplanned sex, unplanned pregnancies, STDs, increased depression and anxiety and the like.
With all these risks, it is difficult to know what to do. An abstinence model, while good in theory, has been shown not to work. A “no tolerance policy”, like that which may be imposed by an authoritarian parent won’t really work either. An authoritative parent, one who engages in a give-and-take style with their children, while communicating expectations as well, have been found to be more effective at protecting their children from alcohol abuse.
It is very important to create a dialogue about drinking. Ask your tweens and teens what they think about alcohol. Discuss their views of others, the media influence, their interest. What are their ideas? Also be sure to discuss what they may do if asked to drink. Don’t judge. Be open, no defensive and work to guide your child toward making smart, thoughtful decisions.
There are other things a parent can do in addition to talking about alcohol use. Most importantly perhaps,
parents must model appropriate drinking behaviors. Many of the studies indicate that a significant reason children start drinking early is to modulate stress. Since they learn that alcohol can be an emotion regulator, they continue to do it. They often first observe this at home: they see mom or dad having a glass of wine to take the edge off after a long day. Parents need to teach alternatives to drinking as a way to relax. That way it won’t be their child’s first thought either.
At the end of the day, more teens try alcohol than don’t. It’s imperative that you focus on safety and the need for them to reach out to you if they (or their friends) do drink. Make sure your child knows that you would rather have a drunk child who is alive, then one who’s worried about making you angry, who then doesn’t make a smart choice and gets in a car with someone who has been drinking or driving while drunk. Be sure that your child knows to call for a ride or to reach out for help in some way if he has been drinking (or if his friend has been drinking). You can be angry at the choices and implement consequences later, but be sure to praise the choice to be responsible and safe immediately.
Here’s the link to the segment from The Early Show on this topic:
What are your thoughts?