Keeping Teens Away From Alcohol
Joseph, father of one teenager and three adult children, has always allowed his kids to drink small to moderate amounts of wine as part of the family's traditional Friday night meal. His calls his kids "responsible" and "psychologically stable." Raised in a religious community and a family with no history of alcoholism, Joseph says he's confident that this small amount of drinking won't have a negative impact on his kids' lives.
In the United States, illegal alcohol consumption among teenagers is a national issue. The Partnership for a Drug-Free America reports that more than 50 percent of eighth graders and 8 out of 10 high school seniors report that they've tried alcohol. While it's likely that much of this consumption is done out of eye-sight of parents, is it possible that providing teens with alcohol under parental supervision will guard against dangerous experimentation later? Or is this practice sending teens the wrong message?
Dr. Allen Lipschitz, director of the outpatient clinic at the AREBA Casriel Institute, a private alcohol and substance abuse treatment center, believes that although there is such a thing as drinking responsibly among teenagers, there is also a small part of the population that should never drink -- those people who are prone to alcohol or any substance abuse problem. Such ailments generally afflict those with a genetic predisposition to alcoholism -- a history of it in the family.
In typical communities and high schools, this is not the case. Phil Berardelli, a highway safety issues expert and author of "Safe Young Drivers: A Guide For Parents and Teens," has raised two teenagers and feels that as a parent today, challenges are more serious than they were when he was growing up. Raised in a traditional Italian family, alcohol was always served at Sunday dinners to young and old alike, but Berardelli feels that today, providing any alcohol to minors is too dangerous. He notes that in the face of social influences being what they are, kids need "strong influences from their parents to counteract outside pressures." As a parent and public figure, he strongly recommends that parents don't allows teens to drink.
Legally, minors are forbidden to drink alcohol under any circumstances, whether being offered it by an adult or otherwise. In addition, as attorney Abraham Kinstlinger, notes, "in many...states, adults are legally responsible for injuries caused by minors who drink in their homes. That means that if a kid gets into a car accident and injures someone because he is intoxicated, the adult who served him the drink is responsible to the injured party." This is also true if the kid were to injure himself. Thus, for ramifications of liabilities alone, adults carry a heavy weight of responsibility when allowing their children to drink even under their supervision. Just knowing that he or she may be responsible for causing injury to anyone by serving alcohol to a minor may cause a parent to think twice before doing so.
Dr. Lipschitz says parents must "orient their children how to behave with alcohol." He notes that parents need to talk to kids about drugs and alcohol, but it is crucial for them to first be prepared for the conversation.
- Understand what sort of enticements and pressures affect your children. Realize that they're not the same as when you were growing up.
- Talk to teachers and school counselors. They observe kids everyday and have a pretty good understanding of what it's like to be a preteenager.
- Start the discussions early. That means that you should start now, if you haven't already. Kids will be faced with some tough decisions once they reach the teenage years, and early preparation will help later.
School psychologist Hillel Khur emphatically says that aside from giving your kids the hard facts about drugs and alcohol, one of the points to stress when discussing the topic is that alcohol should never be turned to as a way to solve or forget problems. If any parent receives an indication that their child is doing this or ever has, it's a warning sign that counseling is necessary.
Death and injury as a result of dangerous experimentation with alcohol are far too common. And yet teenagers at some point will most likely be in situations where alcohol is available or being offered to them. The bottom line is that no matter what the rule is at home, teens must be in the know about alcohol and its affects. And whatever benefit might be gained through supervised experimentation, the experts tend to agree that the best way to raise a responsible child is to keep him away from alcohol altogether.