Give Your Kid a Drink
I gave my son David (14) his first beer last month.
We sat on the shore of the mighty Columbia watching the cargo container ships roll on up river. He drank perhaps half the bottle, the rest I poured on the sand. His Coming of Age long ride.
European kids don't have restrictions on teen drinking as American kids do. European kids don't binge drink like US kids. Could there -- gasp -- be a relationship between telling kids not to do something and their doing it? Like when fundies tell kids not to have sex -- abstinence till marriage -- the teens tend to promise to stay faithful to Daddy and then go get laid anyway, or have oral or anal sex on the grounds that well, "We're still virgins." Yep, you betcha. Both actually.
Turns out the same is true for teen drinking.
W$JCheck the law where you live. Specifically (example.) No kidding.
What kind of parents would ever allow their children to drink at home? Doesn't this put youngsters at risk?
The answer to the first question is simple. Most of the state laws include a specific exemption for children drinking at home during family and religious ceremonies. Observant Jews, for example, traditionally serve children small glasses of wine during Friday night Sabbath ceremonies. Other cultures also begin socializing children into drinking at an early age -- including Mediterranean societies such as Italy, Greece and Turkey (and non-Mediterranean societies such as China).
As for the second, two international surveys -- one conducted by the World Health Organization -- revealed that these Mediterranean countries and Israel had the lowest binge drinking rates among European adolescents.
In societies where children drink with their parents, this typically means giving a kid a small amount of wine or other alcohol, often watered down on special occasions or a family dinner. Many European countries also lower the drinking age for children when they are accompanied by parents. In the United Kingdom, for example, the legal age is 18, but for a family at a restaurant it is 16. In France and Italy, where the legal age is 16, there is no age limit for children drinking with parents.
Several studies have shown that the younger kids are when they start to drink, the more likely they are to develop severe drinking problems. But the kind of drinking these studies mean -- drinking in the woods to get bombed or at unattended homes -- is particularly high risk.
Research published in the Journal of Adolescent Health in 2004 found that adolescents whose parents permitted them to attend unchaperoned parties where drinking occurred had twice the average binge-drinking rate. But the study also had another, more arresting conclusion: Children whose parents introduced drinking to the children at home were one-third as likely to binge.
"It appears that parents who model responsible drinking behaviors have the potential to teach their children the same," noted Kristie Foley, the principal author of the study. While the phrasing was cautious, the implication of the study's finding needs to be highlighted: Parents who do not introduce children to alcohol in a home setting might be setting them up to become binge drinkers later on.
Alcohol is a rich part of our world. Your child will learn to drink. If a drink with dinner is a "so-what" part of growing up, it won't be a big deal when their friends start drinking. Who do you want teaching your children? You...or the kids down the block?
David didn't like the taste of beer. Kinda the point. *smiles*