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Room for Debate: Do You Let Your Teen Drink At Home?

| March 8, 2011

Family drink.

An authoritative new study shows that 5.9 percent of adolescents aged 12 to 14 drank alcohol in the past month. The vast majority of them (93.4 percent) received their alcohol for free the last time they drank. Almost half of those (44.8 percent) got their alcohol for free from their family or at home, including 15.7 percent who were provided alcohol for free by their parents or guardians.

The study, conducted by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), does not define how much alcohol was consumed: a sip, a tasting, a full glass. Nor does the study point fingers or place the data in context: a teen drinking alcohol with a friend or a peer, for example, may not see drinking in the same context as if that teen were being presented a few sips at the dinner table by parents. The study is presented essentially as an alert.

“People who begin drinking alcohol before the age of 15 are six times more likely than those who start at age 21 and older to develop alcohol problems. Parents and other adults need to be aware that providing alcohol to children can expose them to an increased risk for alcohol abuse and set them on a path with increased potential for addiction,” SAMHSA Administrator Pamela S. Hyde, says.

Still, the Wall Street Journal reports today, “some parents think it’s inevitable that teenagers will experiment with alcohol and worry that a message of abstinence doesn’t stand a chance against a barrage of social pressures and media messages glamorizing drinking. By the time they turn 21, 86% of American youths have used alcohol, according to the 2009 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, and 50% are binge drinking, defined as having five or more drinks in a single session for men, and four or more for women. If teens don’t learn to drink responsibly at home, some parents fear they will learn on their own, in a club or private party, where there are few restraints.”

In an online poll, the Journal asked this question: Should parents allow teens to taste alcohol, in hopes of demystifying it? By an overwhelming 87.5 percent, respondents said yes.

There’s little question that relatively heavy drinking in youths, such as 20 drinks a month or more, alters brain development. Not so when the drinking is more moderate. “Indeed,” the Journal continued, “experts say more research is needed to understand what puts young people at risk for alcohol abuse in later years and what strategies are best to discourage it. In the meantime, some parents remain stumped about what to say to their children about alcohol. Several studies have found that parents who are authoritative—communicating expectations with a give-and-take style with their children—are more effective at keeping them from alcohol abuse than those who are authoritarian, permissive or disengaged. What’s often lost in the discussions is that many teens are not regular drinkers. In a national survey of 500,000 students starting college last summer, 70% of youths aged 12 to 20 haven’t had a drink in the last month.”

Perspective, in other words, and moderation–even in application of judgments and data, not just in drinking–matter.

What do you think?

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8 Responses for “Room for Debate: Do You Let Your Teen Drink At Home?”

  1. lawabidingcitizen says:

    I wonder how many alcoholics come from very moderate drinking families?

  2. fair minded says:

    Absolutely not – teach your children to respect the laws. no ifs ands or buts.

  3. Mr Right says:

    fair minded are you retarded, no ifs ands or buts, you sound like a strict parent that doesnt let there child do anything, experience anything, your child is going to grow up to hate you

  4. K says:

    I strongly believe in taking the mystery out of drinking. Like someone said earlier, in europe kids are raised drinking wine at the dinner table. When my kids became teenagers they were permitted to join the family for a single drink on special occasions. As they got older I loosened the reins and let them have a second drink if they wanted one at still special occasions only. When my oldest turned 17 I really loosened up to see what he would do without my intervention at a large family party. He drank 2 drinks. Another time I bought him a 6 pack and told him he could help himself with my permission as long as he was not driving. That 6 pack lasted five months.

    I can say with confidence that my two teens have never been to a drinking party. Neither of them seem overtly interested in drinking or partying and in fact, they lean toward being anti drinking. When they have choices to make about where to go or who they will be around, they both make choices to avoid people who drink excessively and places where that happens.

    I don’t claim what I did will work for everyone but the process above combined with a very open relationship, mutual respect, and being a very involved parent has definitely rewarded me with two terrific young adults with very good heads on their shoulders and strong self esteems that don’t cave to peer pressure.

  5. Anonymous says:

    As a high school kid (50 years ago), my family allowed me to have a small glass of beer or a small glass of wine for special occasions., i.e. family gatherings. That was probably only once or twice a month. My dad’s philosophy was “I’d rather have the kid drinking at the house than out on the road.” I think the key thing was that they themselves were light drinkers — a six-pack would probably last them a month. They also didn’t object when my buddy and I fooled around with a cider press and made a few bottles of apple wine. It was pretty gross stuff and after the initial 2-3 glasses, the rest stayed stored in our cellar for years. I was no angel, I did under-age drinking outside the house, too — but probably no more than a couple of beers at a time (while watching NASCAR races on Saturday nights in Lebanon Valley NY). The idea of disappointing my dad was the little voice that helped me cool it.

  6. I am a drug and alcohol counsellor, I have worked in the rehab industry for 5 years, been involved in counselling for 7 years and not had a drink for 10 years. In my experience I would say that the alcohol is not the problem in any developed drinking problem….. It’s the underlying issues that cause someone to drink excessively. Alcohol is purely a symptom.

  7. Don says:

    Teenagers who report drinking alcohol with their parents are less likely than others to have either consumed alcohol or abused it in recent weeks according to a nation-wide study of over 6,200 teenagers in 242 communities across the U.S. The same findings have been corroborated in the U.K.

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