What Message About Drinking Alcohol Do I Want to Give My Child?

Posted on October 5, 2015 by


When I was in high school, I knew kids whose parents allowed them to drink. As long as the kid stayed in the house and didn’t go anywhere, the parent was fine with it. The reasoning: my kid is safe. They’re going to drink anyway, so they might as well drink in my house.

I even remember going to my mother’s friend’s house, let’s call her Josie. Josie offered her 17-year-old son a beer with dinner. “Why does he get to drink?” I asked. Josie told me that if she made drinking not-such-a-big-deal then her son might be less inclined to drink outside of the house. It would take away the rebellious element altogether.

When I went home that night, I asked my mother for a beer. She laughed in my face. Her philosophy was: you follow the law. If you’re under 21, you don’t drink. When I turned 18, friends bought me a bottle of Absolute Vodka. This was like the best present of my life. My mother found it. She took it away. “How could you?” I cried. “I’m 18. Kids in Europe are allowed to drink at 18!” She guffawed. This is the law in this country. Not allowed to drink. My mother was not a strict parent. She was very into allowing me to test my own limits.  I told her all of my secrets. My house was always packed with kids. This was one rule. Not allowed to drink until you’re 21. No discussion.

Did I anyway? Of course. Did Josie’s son? Of course. We all know that kids are drinking and have been drinking for a long time. A few weeks ago on NYT’s Motherlode blog, Lisa Belkin writes about a newly released poll from the Univerity of Michigan C.C. Mott Children’s Hospital that “finds parent look at their children with blinders on.”

Only 10 percent of parents nationwide believe their teenagers have used alcohol in the last year, and half that percentage believe their teenagers have used marijuana. Yet when the National Institutes of Health polled teenagers recently, more than half (52 percent) admitted to drinking, and nearly a third (28 percent) said they have smoked pot.

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse:

Nearly three quarters of students (72%) have consumed alcohol (more than just a few sips) by the end of high school, and more than a third (37%) have done so by eighth grade.

Let me first say that my son is 7 and he’s far away from the age where we need to even be discussing this with him. But my guess is that when we get there–at age, 10, 11?– do we say, no experimenting, no trying out, no smoking pot (even if we think it should be legalized) and no sipping of drinks?