Get Real about Teenage Drinking

by David J. Hanson, Ph.D.

A two-fold approach to reducing underage alcohol abuse has been proposed by Joshua Levin of Brandeis University.

To parents, Levine has this to say:

If you have children in high school, understand that your kids will drink at parties. Despite the legal drinking age, they will find a way to obtain beer or liquor. While you are home, have a drink with your kids and their friends, or, at the very least, allow them to have a drink. Ensure they are safe, but also guarantee that they know what they are doing. Please introduce them to alcohol before they go off to college so that, on the first weekend, they don't drink themselves into the ER. They do this not because they want to drink to get drunk, but because they do not know any better. 1

To legislators Levine says:

How are teenagers supposed to learn to drink responsibly when they cannot even drink legally with their parents at a restaurant? Having a drink with your parents at a restaurant is a much more adult experience than drinking with them at home.

The truth of the matter is that almost all under-age drinking is done outside the home, in social circles. So lawmakers should make an exception and allow teenagers, who are one or two years under the drinking age and accompanied by their parents, to have a drink at a restaurant. 2

Joshua Levine’s proposals are consistent with recent research funded by the United States government. Teenagers who reported drinking alcohol with their parents were 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.

Drinking alcohol with parents “may help teach them responsible drinking habits or extinguish some of the ‘novelty’ or ‘excitement’ of drinking” according to senior researcher Dr. Kristie Long Foley of the School of Medicine at Wake Forest University. Dr. Foley describes drinking with parents as a “protective” behavior. 3

This finding is to be expected. Those societies and cultural groups with very high rates of drinking but very low rates of alcohol-related problems have certain common keys to success. One such protective key is that in such groups young people learn about moderate drinking from their parents and they do so from an early age.

In addition to teaching young people both how to drink and how not to drink, these groups avoid stigmatizing alcohol and strictly prohibit the abuse of alcohol.

We can reduce youthful alcohol abuse by following the example of those groups that already have low rates of alcohol-related problems. But to do so we need to stop living in a fantasy world of wishful thinking and unrealistic policies. In the words of Joshua Levine, we need to “get real with teenage drinking.”

 

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