Delay, delay, delay – that is what we are asking kids to consider when discussing their relationship with alcohol. People who postpone alcohol use until adulthood fare way better with alcohol throughout their lives. These “late onset” drinkers are more likely to approach alcohol as a beverage, rather than a drug. This theory has been proven time and again in this country, as well as abroad. It doesn’t surprise me that kids don’t want to buy this, as I have a hard time selling it to their parents. There is a MOUNTAIN of research showing that parents who lovingly forbid alcohol use with much warm and reasonable conversation tend to raise children who are far less likely to drink dangerously in college or experience problems with alcohol later in life. NPR aired an excellent article on the potent role parents can play in their teen’s decision-making about alcohol. http://www.npr.org/2010/12/27/132288846/parenting-style-plays-key-role-in-teen-drinking?sc=emaf Will zero tolerance keep children from sneaking some alcohol at some point in high school? Perhaps not. Will it save them from future addiction? Almost definitely.
We are working towards the best-case scenario here, not seeking perfection or something completely unrealistic. When parents consistently send a health message about avoiding alcohol until emotional and physical maturity has been reached, the kids will likely end up intact. No other sentence causes more combat in a parent meeting than when I ask parents to help their children postpone drinking as long as possible. There is at least one parent in every audience who insists that kids drink because it isn’t allowed and that mom and dad take away the mystique by allowing their children to drink before the legal age. This “forbidden fruit myth” is one of the more destructive belief systems today. There is a recent, compelling study that successfully dispels this very myth by Dutch researcher, Haske Van der Vorst.http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=127222042 When I see how excited some of these parents become, I wonder what is really at stake for them to lower the boom on this one issue. I have started posing a question to these doubting parents for them to just reflect on as they think about alcohol and child rearing. I don’t expect an answer live in the meeting but I send them all home with this query: Since research shows that there is nothing in it for your child, what’s in it for you to let your child drink in high school? Who is it actually benefitting for you to be lenient about drinking? It might be helpful to examine your message about alcohol and make an honest cost/benefit list. Is it just easier or friendlier to let your child drink? In the end, whose needs are you addressing with your rules and what will the ultimate outcome be? Unanswered questions make great traveling companions and these questions are vital to the health of any family.