Tuesday, March 15, 2011


I read a few days ago about a new study on teens and alcohol and whether being given alcohol by their parents led to "educated" drinking or abuse.  I was disturbed that they threw parents who supplied alcohol to partying teens in with parents who offered it at dinner or in family situations.  Apples and oranges, in my mind.

My own parents offered us wine with dinner when we reached our teens.  Not to excess, but enough to learn about feeling the effect of some alcohol.  They opened some champagne when I turned 18 but I don't recall any cocktails being offered until college - though not yet 21. 

They were very open about discussing the effects of alcohol and we could also observe  because they enjoyed their "before dinner" drinks and had  parties at home.  I could see that drinking could make things fun - up to a point.  I never liked to see people get "out of control" and never wanted to be like that.

The first times I drank outside outside our home I was a senior in high school and there was mostly beer around.  I never have liked it so I would carry a can around to be sociable but didn't drink it.  The first time I drank too much it was some Tawney Port that someone brought to a party. It was "wine" but with a punch I didn't expect.  That was my first "embrace with a  toilet" -  not to mention the hangover.   I learned the lesson to pay attention to how I was feeling instead of assuming I could handle a couple of glasses of something.  Those are things I shared with my kids - ways to deal with "social pressures" and what happens when you don't drink mindfully.

When I came home from college (fake ID in my wallet) my dad decided that I needed to learn to drink like a "classy woman".  Scotch and water became my drink.  It was a way to make sure I knew what it was that I was drinking, rather than trying all kinds of things without knowing their effect on me.  Plus it was amazing how infrequently I was carded when I ordered scotch!  Low calorie, too.

We have done the same with our kids. We are actually much more occasional drinkers compared to my parents.  We have offered small glasses of beer or wine when they were teens and home with us.  Sips of cocktails.  Frank discussions of the effects of alcohol, differences between different kinds of drinks and tips to avoid overdoing it.  (My trick is to order a glass of water with each drink and don't order another drink until the water is gone. It slows down the number of drinks and dilutes the effect of the alcohol on the body.) 

When my older daughter decided she wanted to see what to was like to get drunk, she was with a group of girlfriends and learned that she "loves everybody" - a very important thing to know in advance of drinking around guys!  I  am a very giggly drunk which my kids have enjoyed observing the once or twice a year that I over indulge.

My older kids are now 23.  One is into nice wines, the other brews his own beer.  They are both social drinkers and while I know they have also over indulged, I don't think they have set out to drink themselves into a stupor as so many young people seem to do.  My youngest is still in high school and is not with a crowd that drinks at all.  Though I know that will change in college. I have warned my girls to be careful of who is giving them a drink and of not leaving their drink unattended because of the dangers of drugs being added.

By the time they turn 21, 86% of American youths have used alcohol, according to the 2009 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, and 50% are binge drinking (defined as having five or more drinks in a single session for men, and four or more for women.)  Surveys have shown that teens who drank along with their parents were only one-third as likely to binge and half as likely to be regular drinkers.

Many teens grow up drinking wine with their parents as an accompaniment to meals in wine-producing countries like Italy and France, where there is no minimum legal drinking age. But research is mixed on whether those teens are more or less likely to be problem drinkers.  Apparently the countries with the most binge drinking are those where drinking takes place primarily in bars rather than at home.

I would never offer drinks to other kids under 21 nor allow underage drinking at a party in my home.  I think each family has a right to make decisions about teaching responsible drinking in their own way.  For 2 generations my family has had success by introducing alcohol at home. Opening the dialogue and educating our kids has worked for us.

What is your take or experience with this issue?


Jennifer (Jen on the Edge) said...

I am of the same mind as you. We've talked with our girls about beer and alcohol and, later when they are in high school, we'll probably offer small samples for them here at home. Living in a college town, we occasionally hear stories about parties gone bad. We'll discuss protecting your drink and not letting it out of your sight or accepting drinks from strangers or guys.

Jenn @ Juggling Life said...

We let them have a sip now and then, but never a whole glass as some people we know did.

I would have said that I would never supply alcohol to other kids under 21, but I realized that it has become normal for my almost-21 year old son and his friends to have a couple of beers when they're hanging out at our house this spring break. Some are under 21, others just under. Nobody is getting drunk and I know they always name a DD when they go out.

I think being honest with your kids about both alcohol and drugs is the very best thing you can do--don't try to pull "reefer madness" type propaganda on them.

yogurt said...

I agree with you. Intuitively it makes sense that a gradual and informed introduction to alcohol seems the smartest. I've been curious about the research you are referring. And yes, need to distinguish between parents who supply alcohol to kids' parties, parents who are getting drunk and allow their kids to get drunk right along side them, and parents who responsibly introduce their kids to alcohol.

I do know that a lot of research says the earlier kids start drinking on a regular basis the more likely they are to develop a drinking problem. Makes me wonder about the lack of drinking age in other countries and the incidence of alcoholism there vs. here.