(First published in 2010)
The journey of raising a teen is fraught with challenges. Not only is his natural development tricky, but a teen’s world is filled with societal influences of all kinds, alcohol being just one.
Alcohol is on everyone’s minds: Tweens and teens want to try it, and parents want to keep it away. It is a concern at every turn. And while there is much to consider when it comes to teens and alcohol, parents remain tremendously influential in the choices their kids will make and habits they develop when it comes to alcohol.
Take the seemingly innocent request, “Can I have a sip?” You’re at your family dinner table; the children have milk or water, and mom and dad have a glass of chardonnay. Fourteen year old Jeremy asks the above, and Dad thinks, Heck, it’s just a sip. Why not? It’s not a big deal. Maybe twelve year old Amanda asks “Can I have the last drop of your beer?” Dad thinks, There’s nothing left, really. Only a drop. No harm.
Truth be told, the lessons about alcohol consumption that are the most powerful may just be the ones that are not accompanied by a wagging finger and a tongue lashing. It is the small, accumulated lessons about drinking that add up to make a difference. Allowing your underage child a sip of your wine or that last drop of your beer is a small but potent message. It says a little taste of alcohol is okay. It is approval.
Then there are those who argue that you make a bigger deal out of drinking by not allowing that sip. The child wants the most what he can’t have. There is some truth to this point. But should this line of thinking justify the sip?
Here’s what we know: Except for anything sweet or completely bland, humans develop a taste for everything else. This includes alcohol. Any four year old tastes alcohol and exclaims, “Yuck!” But Mommy and Daddy and grown-ups drink it, so it becomes the forbidden fruit and therefore, desirable. Even if it’s yucky, the child often tries to sample that fruit. And every time the child is allowed to sample it, the taste becomes more familiar and more tolerable. Sooner or later the child who once thought beer was disgusting now has a taste for it, just like Daddy does.
Here is the truth: Allowing your child to sample your alcohol is against the law. Every time you allow your child to have that last drop, you are in essence giving him the message that you don’t respect the law. So why should he respect the drinking age, if you don’t? Daddy doesn’t think it’s any big deal, so why should I?
In the course of everyday life, parents have countless opportunities to practice what they preach, to walk the walk, in little ways and big. And it is those little sips that give rise to the big gulps.