To Sip or Not To SipBy
The question of whether or not to let your children sip the bubbly on New Years is one of those parenting dilemmas that seems to defy time. A kissing cousin of this issue lies in the debate of whether to allow a teen to sip wine at dinner, or share a beer with dad on Sunday. Lucky for us, parents aren’t the only ones that have considered these issues. Quite a bit of research has actually been done on this matter, and the findings may surprise you.
In most states, it is perfectly legal for a parent to provide small amounts of alcohol to their own child. A sip here or there hardly seems immoral, and the physical danger of such small amounts is very low. Some parents believe that exposing their kids to alcohol under such supervised conditions actually serves as a training opportunity. The hope is that the experience removes some of the mysticism of alcohol, and teaches children to use it in moderation. “Not so fast!“, say substance abuse professionals.
John Lieberman is the director of operations for Visions Adolescent Treatment Centers, two of California’s prominent teen treatment facilities. In a recent interview with the Marietta Daily Journal, Lieberman dispelled the confusion on this subject. In his decades of experience, Lieberman said, “I have yet to hear a kid say, ‘I was 25 years old when I took my first drink – because my parents didn’t let me drink – and then I became an alcoholic.” The notion that “if we do this at home, my child will be able to handle it better” he said, “is mistaken.”
And he’s not the only one to think so. Two of the nations foremost authorities on substance abuse are the federal government’s Center for Disease Control and Columbia University’s Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse. Both of these agencies have compiled volumes of research on teen addictions, and both of them have found that the earlier a teen is introduced to alcohol, the more likely they are to develop substance abuse problems. In fact, for each year that a child remains alcohol free, their chances of ever engaging in underage drinking, or even adult abusive drinking patterns, decreases substantially.
In a paradoxical gesture, parents who try to dispel their children’s “curiosity” regarding alcohol, may actually contribute to abusive drinking patterns. And this is where that sip of bubbly becomes significant. A taste of wine at church is much different than the sampling of alcohol taken at a family gathering or celebration. In the latter, the alcohol becomes an accessory to social celebration. When a parent says “It’s OK here.”, or “It’s OK when you’re with me.”, the message becomes confusing. In the inevitable adolescent rationalization that follows, alcohol use becomes safe and acceptable -so long as you can get away with it. Today’s novelty quickly becomes tomorrow’s tool.
When it comes to alcohol, younger is never better. In the 80′s, decades of research on this subject resulted in the raising of America’s minimum drinking age to 21. Most of the world’s civilized societies have followed suite. Even the wine loving European countries have come around. Last year, for example, France raised their minimum drinking age from 16 to 18.
The idea that parents can cause abusive drinking patterns by taking a hard stance on alcohol, has long been proven false. In fact, repetitive studies have shown that the stronger and more directly a parent opposes alcohol use, the less likely their children are to become underage drinkers, engage in binge drinking, and progress to alcoholism.
The best thing a parent can do, say’s Lieberman, is to prolong their children’s abstinence from alcohol. The longer they hold it off, the better chance their children have. “At an older age, when someone does decide to drink, their brain is at a different place than when they were 15 or 16. A 15-year-old doesn’t have the same grasp of potential consequences.” Rather than try to make them feel comfortable with alcohol use, it’s far better to send a firm and clear message, one that is consistent with the law, and in the best interests of their long-term health. The notion that alcohol is not an indispensable accessory to celebration, could be one of the best life lessons you give your child. So pour the sparkling apple cider instead. It’s all the look and fun, with none of the worry.
For more information on Alcohol and underage drinking, take the MpoweredParent Alcohol Tutorial.