I was the first of my friends to have a baby. Therefore, I have also been the first to encounter parenting milestones such as sending my child off to kindergarten, shuttling him between two households, watching with pride and tears as he graduated from middle school and high school, anxiety when he had his first date…you get the picture.
I am also the first one of my friends to have a child go to rehab. But, based on all I have read and seen about the prevalence of addiction in teens these days, I won’t be the last.
Which is not what my friends want to hear.
It has been really interesting to converse with my peers (most of which now have kids in their teens, some even in college) about alcohol use while their child is under the age of twenty-one. I have heard a lot of arguments as to why it should be okay to allow them drink under the legal drinking age…
1. I did it and I was fine.
2. If they can vote and fight for our country they should be able to drink.
3. They have to get prepared for the independence college will bring.
4. Kids will be kids.
And my personal favorite….Kids are going to do it anyway, I would rather have them under my roof then somewhere else.
I can honestly see some validity in these arguments. And if I didn’t have a son who [thank God] landed in rehab at the age of twenty-one I might even feel a lot more like my friends do.
But that is not the case.
As the mother of a child who has battled alcoholism in his youth and lost his dad to the disease, and who was so moved by that experience she finished college and now works in the field of substance abuse treatment, I can say I have a strong opinion regarding teenagers and drinking.
It has been written in many sources the longer we [parents] can delay the use of alcohol and drugs in our kids the better chance they have of not falling into addiction. I agree with that thinking. I will not overdramatize the problem by spewing statistics at you (I think numbers can be manipulated to say what you want anyways), but it has been proven the younger a child is when he (or she) begins drinking the greater the chance of addiction. In other words, early experimentation can lead to regular recreational use which (in teens) can be a very slippery slope into a journey no child or family wants to take.
I understand my friends’ points of view, and I would never pass judgment on their parenting [mainly because I don’t want anyone passing judgment on mine], yet knowing what I do about alcohol use and teenagers I will never willingly contribute to it.
In my opinion, if you allow your child to drink at home (with or without their friends) you are condoning the behavior. I think it sends a very confusing message to your child if you let them drink, even moderately, at home in their teens.
There is a reason the drinking age is twenty-one, and isn’t because twenty-one is some kind of “magic” number, [in part] it is because we now know the brain isn’t fully developed until the mid-twenties. The decision making part of the brain that is able to understand the consequences of their actions.
You can legally allow your child to drink in your home before that age. Your kid may even spend nine months a year away at college where you have no idea (or control) over what takes place, I get it. But, as their parent is it your job to help them see around the corners.
I pulled up a reference (relevant to the state of Texas where we live) with lots of great information about teens and alcohol, including the ramifications if you [the parent] were to allow, or supply, alcohol to minors:
Those of us in the throes of parenting teenagers know how mentally draining it can be. We are all just doing the best we can with the information and life experience we have. I want my friends to know that should they ever find themselves in a situation where they fear their child has a problem with alcohol or drugs I would be there as an empathetic listener. As a person who would help them find appropriate resources, and as a shoulder to lean on if it was necessary for them to navigate the world of addiction.
I believe my son’s alcohol abuse was the result of a number of factors…genetics, his upbringing (which yes, obviously includes my own home environment), and his early start with alcohol. His experimentation at age fifteen is actually many years later than some I have worked with in treatment.
I, like many other parents, denied a problem when liquor was repeatedly missing in our home. I chose to believe my child over my husband when he clearly saw there was a problem. It took my son actually calling me and telling me there was a problem before I would let it sink into my head what was going on.
Today my son is three years sober. That has not come without some serious mental health work on his part and on the part of the rest of our family. Addiction is happening far too often to our teenagers for parents to have a cavalier attitude about allowing it in their home while kids are underage.
Yes, it is our job to get our child ready for the “real world”, but I don’t think that includes introducing them to alcohol in their teens. I have personally and professionally seen too many families affected by the negative impact of early alcohol use.
How do you weigh in on the topic of teens and drinking?