7 of 1000 – Underage Drinking

Sheila, “Drinking – With the oldest being diabetic, and the temptation to drink looming, I let her sit with the adults before she was legal, to have a fancy drink or a cooler.  I was terrified her blood level would go low, and her friends would leave her behind fearing they would get in trouble. I always said to them, “If you are in trouble CALL me.  No questions asked. I’ll come get you.” Tip #12

Sheila’s Tip #12, “Drinking,” leads me to what I find to be an interesting and complicated issue.  Over the years, I’ve noticed parents deal with the issue of alcohol in a number of different ways.  Strategies ranged from, “He can drink only in my house.” to “He can drink anywhere but not in my house.” and everything in between.

Even entire countries are vastly different in what they will, and will not, allow.  In some countries there is no age restriction at all.  In other countries the drinking age is 16, some 21, and others it is banned entirely.  The wide variations in addressing the usage of alcohol is so intriguing.  It is no wonder why we struggle as parents, and discuss at great lengths.

How can parents manage the challenging concern of teenage drinking?  It’s a tough one! Many different perspectives, backgrounds, cultural beliefs, and well-thought out rationales can be found at the kitchen table, and in research.  I think strong parents spend hours contemplating how to best tackle, or guide our kids through, this shared and sometimes terrifying concern.

In Sheila’s case, the issue was further complicated by juvenile diabetes.  It was especially important to monitor and support her daughter as she worked through the risks, temptations, and peer pressures surrounding alcohol. Drinking with diabetes has increased dangers, requiring even deeper consideration. We know, teenagers aren’t always as fearful of dangers as parents would hope.   Sheila made the decision she felt would best keep her daughter safe.

Each family is different.  Unique circumstances, and in my case family baggage, came into play when planning for alcohol to rear its head. Attentive and engaged parents, give a great deal of thought when determining what is best suited for their budding adults.  If Sheila was Switzerland, I was Kuwait.

I recall when Michael was 6, I let him sample whiskey at a wedding.  (At the risk of sounding dramatic, truly, one of my deepest regrets!)  I had hoped he would hate it, and never try it again.  Unfortunately, that didn’t happen.  He seemed to love it.  His eyes indicated to me, he couldn’t wait for his next taste.  My little experiment was an epic fail!

I come with a highly alcoholically-charged background. Alcoholism runs rampant my family, all the way through the ‘tree,’ from roots to leaves!  I was hyper-sensitive to the effects of alcohol, and did not allow it in our home while raising Michael, not a drop!  I was Kuwait!

Of course I knew, it was uncommon for teenagers to wait until the legal age to consume alcohol.  I did promoted the practice, from age 6 – 18.  I would highlight research, risk, and responsibility at every opportunity. I explained to Michael it was illegal to drink under 19, and if he did, it could involve the police.

I was terrified!  I tried to terrify him, “…not only the police, a criminal record, homelessness, death, no chance of employment, it’s all waiting behind a bottle!”  (Maybe a little on the dramatic-side.)

In areas where the law is clear, I feel parents can take a ‘free pass,’ a total ban.  I would rest on the law, the stated rules, whenever I could.  In terms of driving, seat belts, movies, video games, social media, and drinking. I would point to the law, or the rules.  If there was a rule stating you had to be 13+, 16, or 19, then I was not to blame. It was a non-negotiable.  “Take it up with the courts.”

For example, it was never a discussion as to if marijuana was good or bad, it was illegal.  It didn’t come down to personal judgement, or Michael’s ability to handle any given situation, just a matter of the law.  I’m glad we didn’t live in Amsterdam! 

I would encourage Michael to uphold the rules, and explained they were in place for a reason.  Rules are meant to protect us from ourselves.

Admittedly, the rules were occasionally bent, as in the case with the whiskey.  A family member did allow him to control the steering wheel before the age of 16 (Which I was WILD about!). I also imagine a few video games and movies made it past my watchful eye.

It is any family’s right to choose.  Not at all for me, or anyone, to judge.  I think, having clarity on rules, guidelines, and consequences help families, and countries, operate a little smoother.  I myself, welcome any rationale enabling me to delay risk.  For me, the law was my easy way out.

Laws can help us to keep our kids, kids.  They can keep them safe, and us free from decision making.  Even when it comes to Facebook.  There is an age restriction.  It doesn’t have to be open for discussion. Facebook has a rule, you can’t break the rules.  I luckily, did not have to contend with that one!!

If we as parents condone breaking one law, or bending the rules for any particular reason, how can we demand strict adherence of another?  It’s not an easy decision. There are so many factors in play, much to consider.  There are individual choices, personal histories, learned behavior, values, beliefs, and cultural factors.

In the end, each of us have to make our best decisions, based on our families.  In my opinion, it is the thought and careful consideration which makes the difference. Providing rationales to the kids, and informing them on risk is important. Education is key.

Solid parenting will provide as much information as possible, so the kids can make an informed choice on what, and when, to introduce adult matters into their world.

It’s tricky!

Thanks Sheila!  Thanks for all you brought to Michael’s childhood, for the three great kids you raised, and for your enthusiasm and dedication as a parent! I deeply appreciate your openness in allowing me to present this alternate view to this complex topic.

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