It’s difficult to decide whether growing pains are something teenagers have…or are. ~Author Unknown
I was the first of my friends to have a baby. Therefore, I have also been the first to encounter parenting milestones such as sending my child off to kindergarten, shuttling him between two households, watching with pride and tears as he graduated from middle school and high school, experienced the anxiety of his first date…you get the picture.
I am also the first one of my friends to have a child go to rehab. But, based on all I have read and seen about the prevalence of addiction in teens these days, I know I won’t be the last.
Which is not what my friends want to hear.
It has been really interesting to converse with my peers (most of which now have kids in their teens, some even have kids in college) about alcohol use while their child is under the age of twenty-one. I have heard a lot of arguments as to why it should be okay to allow them to drink before they hit the legal drinking age…
- I did it, and I was fine.
- If they can vote and fight for our country, they should be able to drink.
- They have to get prepared for the independence college will bring.
- Kids will be kids.
And, my personal favorite…Kids are going to do it anyway, I would rather have them under my roof than somewhere else.
I can honestly see some validity in these arguments. And if I didn’t have a son who [thank God] landed in rehab at the age of twenty-one I might even feel a lot more like my friends do.
But, that is not the case.
As the mother of a child who has battled alcoholism in his youth and lost his dad to the disease, and who was so moved by the experience she finished college and began working in the field of addiction with teens and their parents, I can say I have a strong opinion regarding teenagers and drinking.
It has been written in many sources the longer we [parents] can delay the use of alcohol and drugs in our kids the better chance they have of not falling into addiction. I agree with that line of thinking. I will not over dramatize the problem by spewing statistics at you (I believe numbers can be manipulated to say what you want them to anyways), but it has been proven the younger a child is when he (or she) begins drinking the greater the chance of addition. In other words, early experimentation can lead to regular recreational use which (in teens) can be a very slippery slope into a journey no child or family wants to take.
I understand my friends’ points of view, and I would never pass judgment on their parenting (mainly because I don’t want anyone passing judgment on mine), yet knowing what I do about alcohol use and teenagers I will never contribute to it.
In my opinion, if you allow your child to drink at home (with or without their friends) you are condoning the behavior. I think it sends a very confusing message to your child if you allow them to drink, even moderately, at home in their teens.
There is a reason the drinking age is twenty-one, and it isn’t because twenty-one is some kind of “magic” number, [in part] it is because we now know the brain isn’t fully developed until the mid-twenties. The last part of the brain to develop is the same one in charge of decision making, the one able to understand the consequences of their actions.
You can legally allow your child to drink in your home before that age. Your kid may even spend nine months a year away at college where you have no idea (or control) over the choices they make, I get it. But, as their parent it is your job to help them see around the corners.
I pulled up a reference (relevant to the state of Texas where I live) with lots of great information about teens and alcohol, including the ramifications if you [the parent] were to allow, or supply alcohol to minors:
Those of us in the throes of parenting teenagers know how mentally draining the job can be. We are all just doing the best we can with the information and life experience we have. I want my friends to know should they ever find themselves in a situation where they fear their child has a problem with alcohol or drugs I would be there as an empathetic listener. As a person who would help them find appropriate resources, and as a shoulder to lean on if it was necessary for them to navigate the world of addiction.
I believe my son’s alcohol abuse was a result of a number of factors…genetics, his upbringing (which yes, obviously included my own home environment), and his early start with alcohol. His experimentation at age fifteen is actually many years later than some I have worked with in treatment.
I, like many other parents, denied a problem when liquor was repeatedly missing from our home. I chose to believe my child over my husband when he clearly saw there were red flags. It took my son actually calling me and telling me there was a problem before I would let it sink into my head what was going on.
Today my son is more than four years sober. That has not come without some serious mental health work on his part and on the part of the rest of our family. Addiction is happening far too often to our teenagers for parents to have a cavalier attitude about allowing it in their home while kids are underage.
Yes, it is our job to get our child ready for the “real world”, but I don’t think that includes introducing them to alcohol in their teens. I have personally and professionally seen too many families affected by the negative impact of early alcohol use.
It would be far better if we concentrated on educating ourselves and our kids about the use of drugs and alcohol, the importance of making healthy choices, and likely most important: modeling the behaviors we’d like to see our kids pick up on.
Kimberly Muench is a freelance writer who published her autobiography My Mothers Footprints: A Story of Faith, Calm, Courage, Patience and Grace in 2011. She is a regular contributor to Suburban Parent Magazine in Dallas/Fort Worth, crafts a newspaper column entitled Something to Muench on, and has been published through a number of parenting websites including Mamapedia, University of Moms, and A Fine Parent. In addition, Kimberly writes weekly on her own website MyMothersFootprints.com about faith, family, marriage and personal growth. Kimberly is a wife and mother to 5 children who hails from Wisconsin, but now makes her home in Texas.
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