Teaching Responsible Underage Drinking: A Parent’s Obligation?

Why is our nation’s youth so baffled by alcohol? Is it because our society’s struggle with moderation? Yep. Rebelliousness? Probably. Lack of a parental guide? Maybe. Our own stupidity? Definitely.

Teaching Responsible Underage Drinking: A Parent's Obligation?

Every day a new contingent of curious teenagers sneak into their parent’s liquor cabinet, grab a bottle of vodka, scotch or gin, and take their first swig of alcohol. The taste leaves them baffled. “Why would adults drink something that sets your throat on fire and makes your head throb? Especially when soda tastes so bubbly and delicious?”

It’s normally a pretty terrible experience, and a decision they immediately regret. But it rarely stops them from giving it a second chance.

The reason most teenagers take that first sip is simply because they aren’t supposed to. It’s the same rebelliousness that causes precocious pre-teens to be insulted by waiters who hand them the kids menu at a restaurant. In today’s society, the younger generation exhibits an explicit desire to be treated like adults, without any adult responsibility. It’s a problem that shares a myriad of fault, ranging from parent to kids themselves. Combine it with the teenage desire to do bad things with their friends, and voila, next thing you know they’re drinking in the woods and refilling the vodka with water.

Soon enough college rolls around and pundits start shaking their heads about what a debaucherous nation we’ve become, forgetting their own similar experiences. The socially-accepted ‘trial by fire’ approach to drinking is a dangerous one, but it’s also our most popular, because for some reason teaching kids about drinking can be more awkward than the ‘birds and the bees.’

But there has to be a reason why America’s youth have such a difficult time adjusting to the wonders and dangers of alcohol—right? Does our government’s restriction lead to a rebelliousness that we can’t seem to curtail or understand? Are we simply terrible at moderation in our over-sexed, over-eating, over-drinking and over-prescribed society? Do we simply need a guiding hand from our parents? Or are we all just bound to be stupid during this point of our lives?

An article in today’s Wall Street Journal asked the paradoxical question: “Parents teach their children how to swim, how to ride a bicycle and how to drive. Should they also teach their teenagers how to drink responsibly?”

The answer should be a resounding yes, but it’s not. Parent’s showing their kids the delicate art of responsible drinking is a hotly-contested issue that doesn’t feature much common ground, but why? Shouldn’t parents be able to teach their kids how to handle something as potentially hazardous as alcohol? Shouldn’t it be their obligation? Or is their child’s first night hugging a toilet lesson enough?

Sure, we can blame our problem with binge drinking on our society’s glorification of alcohol’s less-than-admirable effects. Movies and television show how getting drunk can merely lead to joyous evenings out with your friends. You fumble on your words, have sex, and possibly go on adventures. It’s an unbelievable elixer that makes you funnier and more attractive. It’s freedom in a bottle, keg or can.

But is that going to change anything?

According to the studies used in the WSJ article 86% of Americans have had a drink before the age of 21. This isn’t very shocking considering the availability of fake IDs, older siblings and ‘cool’ parents. What is surprising is the that 6% (700,000) of 12-14 year olds have had a drink in the past month, which is basically middle schoolers ranging from 6th-8th grades. This crowd is six times more likely to encounter drinking problems when they get older.

Where do we draw the line between teaching responsible drinking and enabling a bad precedent? Why can’t we simply handle our drinking with the supposed elegance of the French and Italians?

A parental guiding hand and teenagers’ own common sense should play a major role. It’s just too bad that’s a quality we all seriously lack.