Parents of teenagers, a question for you.
Would you consider serving alcohol to your kids at home as a way to teach them the habits of “responsible” drinking?
This is a question tackled recently by a column in the Wall Street Journal, and I got to thinking how STEP would have us approach the issue.
Lots of parents follow the “inoculation” approach, meaning they prefer to expose their kids to a little of the disease (bad habits, the culture, etc) to give them an opportunity to respond in a healthy way, or make the mistake on a small scale and learn to discriminate between good and bad.
For the most part, serving alcohol to minors not your own is illegal and would expose you to legal liability; however 31 states allow parents to furnish alcohol to their own kids, including for religious ceremonies.
So does it make sense to model to your kids the appropriate way to manage and drink alcohol?
I think the answer depends on the type of behavior being modeled.
Some research (a survey of o 6,000 teens published in the Journal of Adolescent Health in 2004) does indicate that the behavior being modeled is the important factor. For example, kids who attended a party where parents were supplying alcohol were twice as likely to have engaged in binge drinking--defined as more than five drinks in a single session for boys, four drinks for girls--as well as twice as likely to be regular drinkers themselves.
By contrast, teens who drank along with their parents (not in a party or peer setting) were only one-third as likely to be binge drinkers, and only half as likely as their counterparts to be regular drinkers.
Maybe the parents providing the alcohol to underage drinkers are the ones that think a party needs alcohol to be fun and who are more concerned about that than the legal liability--or the safety of the kids.
Maybe the parents drinking alcohol with their kids (not in a peer or party setting) are the ones who drink responsibly themselves and want their kids to understand that alcohol is an “adult beverage” which requires responsible behavior and manageable amounts.
There is no doubt that alcohol is damaging to the adolescent brain. Brain research has shown that heavy drinking in teens (defined as 20 drinks or more in a month) can lead to decreased cognitive function, executive function, memory, attention and spatial skills. (2009 study, Journal of Clinical EEG and Neuroscience).
I think there’s a better way to handle it besides actually drinking with your kids. While some parents might feel comfortable allowing their kids to taste small amounts of alcohol in a home setting, to get the "curiosity" factor out of the way, it could indeed lead to a confusing message for kids as to what is allowed or appropriate for them.
And while it's certainly worthwhile to have frank discussions with your kids about all the risks, it's more important to listen
carefully to their concerns about the pressures they face to take part.
Role play things they could do and say and specific ways they could avoid being put into pressure situations. Have them make plans for ways to get out of those situations. Most important, have them learn to think for themselves. So much of what we want them to avoid is the result of peer pressure, rather than
Applying STEP principles promotes self-motivation and self-discipline:
--Replacing reward and praise with encouragement;
--Empathetic listening and communication skills, such as I-messages
--Replacing punishment with consequences for applying discipline.
All these methods will help teenagers become confident leaders instead of go-along followers.
Has this issue has come up in your home, and if so,
how have you handled it? What do you think?