Can Parents Create Responsible Drinkers by Serving Kids at Home?

The Wall Street Journal ran an article begging this very question just two days ago. They start out making the controversial argument that parents teach their children how to do everything else, so teaching them to drink responsibly shouldn’t be such a big deal.

Parents who do allow teens to consume wine or beer at home figure that kids who drink with their family and practice moderation will be less likely to go out and lose control with their friends. The opposing camp is of the opinion that any kind of underage drinking is irresponsible (not to mention illegal) and any parents who condone it are setting their kids up for alcohol abuse later in life.

According to the 2009 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, 86% of American youths have used alcohol by the time they turn 21 and 50% of those kids are binge drinking. To be honest, as a person who started college at the age of 18 and lived (and partied) on campus, I’m inclined to believe those statistics are skewed a little low. Although I’m making the statement based on my own personal experiences, I really don’t think my own experience was all that unique.

Underage Drinking

Government surveys have started tracking where teenagers obtain the booze they’re admitting to drinking and often times, parents are the suppliers. Addiction expert/psychologist Stanton Peele put it this way, “There’s a giant difference between a kid who gets totally wasted on some purloined booze in the woods with his friends, and someone who has wine at dinner with their parents or as part of a religious ceremony.”

I must agree.

Surprisingly enough, research on parents’ role(s) in underage drinking is fairly limited. According to a survey of 6,245 U.S. teens, teens who attended a party where alcohol was supplied by a parent were twice as likely to have engaged in binge drinking and twice as likely to be regular drinkers but teens who drank along with their parents were only one-third as likely to binge and half as likely to be regular drinkers.

The European mentality is a common argument. If you look at winemaking countries like Italy and France (where no minimum drinking age exists) and you consider that drinking is a normal part of meals, it may not seem like such a big deal. There is no forbidden fruit to tempt kids. Then again, surveys have found that the proportion of 15 to 16 year olds who binge is higher in France and Italy than the U.S.

There goes that theory. Or does it?

The alcohol awareness groups will say that any kind of underage drinking will add the extra risk of being involved in car accidents, suicides, accidents, unplanned sex (which could potentially lead to crazy things like unplanned pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases.)

The WSJ article also references research that suggests alcohol long-term harm to developing brains. In the late teens and early 20s, the brain is developing its adult shape, pruning away unused connections and forming permanent pathways, particularly in areas involved in planning, decision-making and impulse control.

If you ask me, the important thing is honest and open communication. Everyone is going to have different parenting styles but I very much respect the way my parents approached the issue(s) and I plan on utilizing the same ideas someday. They warned me of the dangers, talked to me about the possibility of peer pressure, told me to be smart and trusted me to make my own responsible decisions.

They also knew that as a sociable teenager I would probably end up consuming alcohol and they made it clear that if I were to engage in such adult behavior, they expected me to act like an adult (or rather, how an adult should be expected to act) and refrain from driving, reckless behavior and sketchy situations. As a high school student I was repeatedly told, “If you’re drinking, do not under any circumstances drive. We will pick you up or if you’re comfortable staying over wherever you are, just let us know that.” The best part is, I knew my parents actually meant it. We talked about it often and while they didn’t provide me with alcohol or encourage drinking it was never something that I had to hide. I wasn’t fearful of them finding out – unless I’d been stupid/irresponsible and as a result, I refrained from being a moron.

I wouldn’t have wanted the type of parents who threw me a graduation party where my friends and I had full access to the kegs – I don’t think those kind of parents are being responsible adults. I think the best approach a parent can take is to follow the rules and keep it real. What’s your stance?



  • brewner March 10, 2011 @ 9:25am

    one thing i’m doing now with my young children is talking to them about choices and consequences. we are constantly making choices, and there will always be consequences, either good or bad. i didn’t start drinking until i was about 24, and can count on one hand (okay, maybe three) how many times i’ve been drunk in those 11 years. my children have never seen me impaired, nor do i plan on letting them. i will be open and honest with them about alcohol. it IS a good thing to be enjoyed in moderation, but it can seriously mess up your life (just look at your grandmother!). i don’t it to be taboo in my house. i don’t want them to be caught off guard about alcohol when they go away to school or go to their first real party. if they drink, they better not drive. i would gladly pick them up. they will have more than the cops to worry about if they drink and drive.

  • Liz March 10, 2011 @ 9:54am

    Thanks for commenting Brewner, It sounds like your kids will be in pretty good shape with a responsible, positive role model and all of the benefits of open and honest parent/child communication. I am by no means an expert on raising children but speaking to my own personal experience, it’s the best approach you can take.

  • vel March 11, 2011 @ 2:08pm

    first, nice blog. I just stumbled on it. I’m also a dark haired woman who likes beer and bourbon. 🙂 My husband’s mother allowed him to have parties and she collected all of the keys. He and his friends didnt’ have to have the yearbook dedicated to them like so many other young guys in western Pennsylvania. I never had parties but I did have occasional sips of wine, beer and mixed drinks. I didnt’ like them and thus didn’t think it was “forbidden” or special in anyway. I am all for parents teaching their kids to be responsible in every way, including drinking. Unfortunately, so many parents aren’t responsible either. I don’t have kids but I would do as brewner says.

  • Hannah March 14, 2011 @ 3:07pm

    Thanks for the compliment, Vel – and thanks for weighing in!

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