Friday, September 30, 2011

Parenting and Teenage Drinking - What Would You Do?

We are very open with our kids about alcohol.

We explained to them that I have an allergy to alcohol; at their ages this is the best way to explain a concept as complicated as alcoholism.  Greta has asked if she has an allergy to alcohol, too, and we told her that we can't know yet, but that alcohol allergies are hereditary, and she will have to be more careful than most about drinking. 

We also explained that drinking at a young age increases her chances that she will have a problem with alcohol later in life. A recent study indicates that people who reported starting to drink before the age of 15 were four times more likely to also report meeting the criteria for alcohol dependence at some point in their lives.

Her response was to say "Well, then, I'm never going to drink alcohol. If someone asks me I'm going to say NO THANK YOU!"

If only it were that simple.

The statistics about teenage drinking are hair-raising.  72% of teenagers in the US admit to using alcohol at least once, and 2 out of 5 teenagers say they drank alcohol within the last month.   Studies also show that when teenagers drink, they tend to binge drink - consuming 4 or more drinks at a time.

As parents, we all want to believe our teenager would be one of the 28% of teens who don't try alcohol. We do our best to teach our children to make smart choices, we advise them of the dangers of drinking.  We consider good grades or a stellar athletic track record as indicators that our kid couldn't possibly be drinking.  But the statistics are frightening, and even if our own kids are trying to make smart choices, chances are they have friends who aren't.

We all remember the power of peer pressure, of wanting desperately to fit in.  Smart choices have a way of fading into the background in the face of peer pressure. 

I can see it in my mind's eye - Greta and some teenage friends hanging out in a parking lot after a movie, or having an innocent get together at a friend's house. Suddenly a bottle appears from someone's pocket, and gets passed around.  When the bottle lands in her hands, I would love to believe that all our education and open communication would lead her to say 'No thank you,' like her 9 year old brain believes she would.  I would also like to believe she would remember the dangers - elevated for her - and pass the bottle along without taking a sip.  I know she would want to make the right choice, but would she?  

I remember my first sip of alcohol, how it calmed my nerves, made me feel whole, comfortable in my own skin.  For someone who struggled with anxiety her whole life, alcohol was like a magic elixir.  Greta has anxiety, too, particularly in social situations, and my gut churns to think about how her resolve not to drink may fall to pieces when she feels alcohol's magic effects.

I also know I am powerless over what happens, to a large degree.  I can educate, encourage her to communicate with us about drinking, spell out the consequences from drinking in startling clarity.  But how can I put more power into her hands to make the right choice, to help her fend off peer pressure?

It's a fine line between trust and facing a stark reality:  most teens drink.

Technology, of course, is coming up with new devices to address the growing problem of teenage drinking.  Sober Link is such a device; a wireless blood alcohol level monitor that a teen can blow into from anywhere, and it wirelessly and immediately provides parents with their child's blood alcohol level and location.   My immediate reaction upon hearing about this was at a visceral level:  I trust my child, she will make smart choices.  I won't need something like that.   But then I watched the video below, and thought about it some more:

I thought about the scenario in the parking lot, of the bottle being passed around.  If Greta wanted to make a smart choice, but felt pressured to drink, having this device in her pocket would give her an out, would empower her to say she can't drink.  

It feels draconian, on some level, but it doesn't have to be. I do trust my children, and I wouldn't give her a device like this one because I don't trust her, I would give it to her to empower her to make the right choice, if she wanted to. 

At nine years old, Greta is eager to listen and receptive to our advice. I hope she stays this way through the difficult teen years, but I hear stories of how communication changes - and not for the better - when kids hit their teenage (and even pre-teen years).  I recognize that I can't stop her from drinking, if she's determined to try.  Kids make mistakes, they make wrong choices, and oftentimes we learn more from our mistakes than from our successes.  But the stakes are so high with teenage drinking; one wrong choice can have disastrous consequences. 

What do you think?  Would you give your teenager a device like this?  If you wouldn't, why not?  How do you talk to your kids about drinking, and at what age do you/did you start? 


Full disclosure:  this is a sponsored post.  I get a lot of requests for sponsored posts, but decline them because they aren't topically relevant to my blog, or of interest to my readers.  I am fascinated by how technology can help (or hurt) teenage drinking, so I jumped at the opportunity to talk about this more.


  1. I didn't drink as a teen, and I was very anxious. So anxious that I never went to parties. I had my core group of friends, some of whom went to parties and drank and some of whom didn't, but when we were together we didn't drink (we did have loads of fun and laughs, though.)

    My friends who did drink seemed to have one thing in common: strict parents. They seemed to have some need to rebel against their parents rules. My mom used to say to me "If you go to a party and you think you might drink, it's ok to just take one beer and nurse it throughout the night. No one will notice or care." (I actually used this in college, I'd just take my beer into the bathroom and refill it with water.) My friends who were forbidden to drink were always sneaking out and getting drunk.

    The other good thing, I think, was that my parents drank Sam Adams beer. So when I asked for a sip, I figured that's what beer should taste like, something strong that you just have a sip of. There was no way I was going to drink the gross Bud Light they served at high school parties. Being a beer snob still saves me - you can't chug a strong beer.

    Alcoholism runs in my family, too.

    I think a device like that is good if it lets your teen say no and use her parents as "the bad guys."

  2. The thing is - and you know this - if our children are to become alcoholics, we can't stop it. We have to have the faith to let them go, so that they can hit their bottom & begin recovering. I have witnessed it among friends in the program, and it is the most heartwrenching pain of parenting.

    When E was in high school, we caught him in a lie his junior year about where he'd been & what he'd been doing. Turns out, they were all at a friend's house, whose parents were out of town, drinking. They all crashed at the house & no one drove.

    I had to decide then and there whether to take the draconian route - which would very possibly lead to E engaging in risky behavior to hid what he was doing - or to take a more liberal approach.

    I said, "I don't like it. I don't approve of it. But IF you are going to do it, you simply MUST NOT DRIVE. I would rather you say, 'I'm drinking & staying at Sam's' then lie to me & try to drive home." Then I talked to him about how he is at a higher risk of dependency, and gave him some red flags to watch out for (like blackouts).

    E is now a freshman in college, and I'm still more concerned about his safety (drinking & driving) than I am his dependency. Maybe that's the wrong approach but it just seems a more immediate threat to me right now.

    Look, my son watched me OD. He knows his risk. I have to let him go and be there if - when - he reaches out for help.

  3. (more immediate threat to HIM). It seems to me a more immediate threat to him.

  4. I started early, 16 or 17, to fit in. I loved it, the way I could finally hang out with boys and the "cooler" girls, and get the approval. After 20 years of hanging out with this "buddy" of mine - I quit 1 year ago completely. It just got in the way and my obsession on where, how much, and when to start drinking that day wore on me and made me a lesser mom.
    My 9-year-old son tells us he will never drink alcohol. He does very well in social situations, but seriously there is so much temptation. The only think I'm going to do is keep talking with him about it - tell him about my experience, and the health risks associated with it.

  5. How strange this entry came up on the very day I searched "teen alcohol drinking by country".
    Me, I,myself, have a problem. My husband absolutely not, so I hope my two sons have inherited his genes.
    My almost 16 year-old has just begun socializing. I live in Germany where a 16 year-old can buy, and wine and beer festivals are plentiful. I know that I am not a wonderful example as far as alcohol goes (for other things, I have been good). My almost 16 year old drank too much recently and puked, etc. I didn't react angrlily towards him ( but was, worried, yes, and guilty as hell), but I told him about my alcoholic brother (okay, I neglected to mention my own personal dilemma) and how it wasn't good, it was in our genes, and we have to be careful. Now, tonight, I have told him, you don't need more than one beer, then drink coke. I have to be realistic. I DON'T KNOW!! And my older son, almost 19, but not out of "high school" yet becaue that's how it is here, was out last night in the company of a teacher. I know he drank too much, and he admitted it. They both have told me the truth about drinking, something my alcohol-fearing mom never would have heard from me. I want to be cool-headed about it, but can I really stop it. Stop them? I want to keep the communication open. I know I drink too much, that's how I am here.
    But in this world I live in that's full of alcohol, more easily accessible and accepted,
    what more can I do to keep my kids going down this same path as my brother, my uncle, my aunt, my grandfather?

  6. I knew a lot of people who drank in high school, but I never did. I was ever grateful to my parents, who gave me a wonderful out for not drinking, since by that time mom was a SAHM and NOTHING got past her. That fact meant my friends all knew that when I said "I'll get caught, they'll kill me" I was serious. I made it through high school and my first two years of college before even trying alcohol. I wasn't 21, but I was only a couple months shy and I was staying at a friend's house for New Year's.

    I am very careful about alcohol, since my great-grandfather was a violent alcoholic. He was in his 80s when he died of cirrhosis of the liver. I do drink socially (not now, since I'm expecting), but I am constantly evaluating my feelings about alcohol, and my husband and I have had discussions about it.

    I like your idea of giving your kid the device to give them that same out that my parents gave me. I would like to think that when my kids get to be old enough to drink, that I will have helped them to make the right choices, but I know that a lot of kids don't.

  7. I don't really know how else to get in touch with you except here. Please read my current blog post and tell me what you think. Candidly. I am crying out to you. Not that you're responsible for me :), but I want your opinion on what I am doing. I am so scared. You are such an inspiration. I don't even know what else to say. Here I sit. At the bottom.

  8. I am not against teen drinking alcohol because I believe in their capability to control themselves. I too drink but they never see me get drunk dead. I think the lessons that I have taught them are enough to keep them away from danger that is related to alcohol consumption.

  9. Constant communication with your children can save them from harm. Teenagers needs reminder from their parents on the do's and don't of drunk driving. Awareness plays an important role in molding them to be a good children in the future. In case your children is charged with DUI contact well experienced DUI lawyer in your area.

    Joseph @ Penrith Drink Driving lawyers

    Sydney Drink Driving & DUI Lawyers | Beazley Singleton Solicitors
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