Underage drinking is a real phenomenon. According to the 2014 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), 34.7 percent of 15-year-olds report that they have had at least one drink in their lives, while approximately 8.7 million people ages 12–20 reported drinking alcohol in the past month.
This issue may not be new, but it seems most conversations about it revolve around restriction and ignorance of reality. Since when did telling a teenager what not to do, or acting like the pressures of growing up don’t exist, actually solve anything?
It seems that education and acceptance of the reality of a situation are the true first steps to understanding it. As a parent, that understanding begins with you. Let’s take a levelheaded look at responsible drinking and ways to connect with your child about it.
You’ve Been There
The most important thing to remember when talking to a teenager or young adult is what it was like in their shoes; they face social pressures that seem juvenile to us now, but they mean the world to them. There are peers, teachers, parents, and a society full of confusing contradictions.
They can’t just avoid peer pressure, or self-pressure, or advertising; they must face it or they will never truly develop their own values. The wonder and danger that comes with growing up is part of sorting out those values and learning to live within a society that exists with or without you.
Authority figures saying “Absolutely not!” or “I won’t even discuss it!” are just shutting down a teenager’s chance to face and understand underage drinking from an educated perspective. This hardline also feeds that very taboo that makes underage drinking so desirable; I’m not supposed to do this thing, therefore it’s all the more exciting.
That doesn’t mean giving your child alcohol so they can decide if they like it; it means informing them of the dangers and statistics and history and, yes, even values of alcohol, while accepting the reality that, as a parent, your child is not under your complete control. They will make mistakes, but they will learn.
Alcohol is in Our Blood
According to archaeological evidence, humans have been making alcohol since 7,000 BC (with further evidence suggesting that intentional fermentation goes back to 10,000 BC!). That’s a long time for many generations of people to deal with the effects, both physical and moral.
Alcohol is present in religious traditions, highly regarded in the cooking world, and culturally significant across the globe.
The United States, however, has a history of Puritan values, Prohibition, a drinking age of 21, and a Just-Say-No rhetoric. However, according to the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), in 2014, 87.6 percent of people ages 18 or older reported that they drank alcohol at some point in their lifetime. Clearly, we don’t always practice what we preach.
Despite, and arguably due to, our social and historical attitudes towards drinking, we face some of the largest incidences of binge drinking in the world. Binge drinking is defined as “the consumption of an excessive amount of alcohol in a short period of time.” We have a huge culture of drinking games amongst young people that encourage excessive drinking. We have a trope of the college freshman, who previously couldn’t experience alcohol going wild when they got their first taste of freedom from their parents. When we get the chance to drink, we drink like we’re making up for lost time.
The Effects of Drinking
Although the restriction of alcohol may be overbearing, the dangers of alcohol do exist, specifically when used in excess.
- Nearly 88,000 people die from alcohol-related causes annually, making alcohol the fourth leading preventable cause of death in the United States.
- In 2014, alcohol-impaired driving fatalities accounted for 9,967 deaths (31 percent of overall driving fatalities).
- Research indicates that alcohol use during the teenage years could interfere with normal adolescent brain development and increase the risk of developing an Alcohol Use Disorder.
In contrast, there are physiological benefits to moderate alcohol consumption (one to two drinks a day) as well, including noticeably decreased risk for heart disease, stroke, and diabetes. These are no small examples, as those three consistently land on the top-five leading causes of death in Western countries alongside cancer.
So what does this research mean to you and your child? Put simply, drinking too much is bad and drinking a little, once your brain is fully developed, isn’t.
A Talk Isn’t Always Enough
So, we’ve come full circle and we’re facing contradictions ourselves. Drinking is an historically accepted part of society, there are pros and cons depending on your drinking habits, and it’s really not the best idea for the underdeveloped mind, but they’re probably going to do it anyways, especially if we tell them not to. There are some simple things you can do for them whether they want help or not:
- Be a Positive Role Model: You can’t have the attitude of “Do what I say, not what I do” when it comes to being a drinking role model. No matter how old or experienced you are you shouldn’t be drinking and driving or abusing alcohol. Lead by example.
- Be a Designated Driver: Make it clear that you’re available if your child ever needs a ride from a party; the uncool factor of getting a ride from your mom is better than dying in a car crash or harming someone else. If their ego still won’t let them take your offer, at least get them a rideshare app like Uber or Lyft. You can sign up with your credit card, monitor their rides, and ensure they get home safely with or without you.
- Ignorance isn’t Bliss: Accepting that teenagers experiment with alcohol is one thing, enabling their alcoholism is another. Keep an eye on them, be open to talk about their drinking habits, and be prepared to be their parent, not their friend.
- Don’t Do It Alone: Most parents aren’t alcohol-treatment specialists, so don’t be afraid to ask for help from the professionals if you need more information or think things are getting out of hand. Residential treatment centers like Havenwood Academy focus on personal growth and academic education. Institutions that accept the same realities we’ve been discussing are key in changing the misconceptions that drive the negative aspects of alcohol consumption.
In the end, it’s up to them to act appropriately or not. You can monitor them, yet you can’t control them. They may screw up and they may fall down, but as a parent, you can lift them back up.
The Key to Responsible Drinking
It takes discipline and determination, achieved through personal growth and understanding, to face social pressures. Drinking responsibly is not about taking alcohol from the hands of young adults (or giving it to them), it’s about empowering them to make the educated decision for themselves. It’s hard for a parent to admit, but eventually their child has to grow up and take responsibility for their own life. Do them a favor and prepare them while you can.