Thursday, February 13, 2014

When is the right time for kids to try alcohol?

"Noo, have a taste of this", my mother offered kindly. "It's delicious", she promised.

I was in the kitchen when I overheard this conversation going on in the hall.

"It's pear flavour", mum explained.

I looked around the kitchen and saw a half empty bottle of pear cider sitting on the kitchen bench.

"Nooooooo!" I screamed, running into the other room. "Don't let him have any of that! It's alcoholic!" Fear drummed through me. It was if I was about to take my first sip of alcohol in nearly six years.

"Oh! I'm so sorry! I didn't realise. I thought it was just sparkling pear juice, like apple cider", my well meaning mother apologised.

The feeling in me was so irrational, I know, but I don't want Noo to have any alcohol until he is of legal drinking age. Not even a little sip. I know that is a crazy expectation to have in this day and age. I can't be with him all the time but I want to do whatever I can to encourage him to wait until he is 18 years old before getting involved with booze and booze culture, if he chooses to at all.

Put it off for as long as possible - image source

I tried and got a taste for alcohol way too early. My parents took the "forbidden fruit" approach thinking it would be better to let us have a try of wine or beer at home rather than make alcohol forbidden, therefore allowing it to become more attractive to the naturally rebellious side of our teenage years.

This is a common way of thinking for parents of teenagers. As reported by Ward, Snow, et al, in their report The influence of parents and siblings on children’s and adolescents’ attitudes and behaviours towards alcohol: A critical review of the literature (2010) prepared for DrinkWiseAustralia:
"Almost half of Australian parents believe that they should teach their children to drink at home before they reach the age of 18".
I'm not saying that my parents giving me a sip of wine at the dinner table is to blame for me abusing alcohol for 12 years but it certainly gave me a taste for it. Research shows that the earlier kids are given their first taste of alcohol, and this is usually under their parent's consent, the more likely they are to increase their alcohol use later in life:
"Longitudinal studies have shown that child reports of parental supply of alcohol for their last episode of drinking are a strong predictor of increased alcohol use over time. Overseas research suggests that when parents do not supply alcohol, adolescents do not increase their consumption of other alcoholic drinks." - The influence of parents and siblings on children’s and adolescents’ attitudes and behaviours towards alcohol: A critical review of the literature (2010)
Now I know my son is only five years old. And I really hope this issue is one I don't have to worry about for a while, but there are still things we, as parents, can do to help mould our kids' attitudes towards alcohol from a very early age.

I've seen in my Facebook feed, and around other websites I haunt, a great parenting quote that goes something like this: "kids will learn more from what we do, than from what we say". The DrinkWise website backs this up:
"Through observing adults drinking, children form their attitudes to alcohol early in life. The attitudes they develop during their younger years will affect how they make a range of important decisions regarding drinking alcohol in the future, such as: underage drinking, pace yourself or fill-up fast, drink and drive or take a taxi, binge drink to get drunk or drink sensibly, drinking every day or occasionally and so the list goes on."
As I'm close to clocking up six years of sobriety from alcohol, Noo has never seen me drink, and I hope he never will. His grandmother drinks rarely and his grandfather is a moderate drinker but Noo has never seen these two extremely important role models in his life, drunk. And I hope he never will.

One day I will tell him about the alcoholism that has plagued both sides of his family. One day I will tell him about my own troubles with booze. I will tell him that he has to wait until he is legally allowed to before he can have a drink. And I will hope that he will grow to be a self confident young person who will feel able to make healthy choices based on knowledge, rather than let himself be peer pressured into doing things he isn't comfortable with just to feel accepted by the crowd. My parenting choices, starting from the day he was born, will hopefully help him become that person.

I know these are grand aspirations I have for my little boy and for myself as his mum. But, you have to be positive in life, set goals, reach for the sky. Sure, mistakes will be made by both of us along the way. If temptation does get in the way and, like a lot of teens, Noo does sneak a taste of booze before he turns 18, the sky won't fall in. We will deal with it. Together.

How old were you when you first tried alcohol?

If you have kids are you going to let them try it at home first before
they turn 18 or make them wait?


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Chantel said...

I promised my Mum I wouldn't have a drink until I was 18 (God knows why!!) and I didn't. Our brains don't finish developing until around 23 - 25 years old - any alcohol prior to that is going to have some effect on how it develops. Im not naive to think that i will be able to have any control over this for my son, but I certainly won't be the one providing or encouraging and I will be strongly advising against it - I am hoping we go back to Victorian times where it wasn't acceptable and if I have a daughter I will get a chastity belt too :)

Jessie Hay said...

We have been parents for 22 years now and our views on this have changed dramatically.
When we first started parenting we believed that teaching our kids to drink responsibly was important and that should include allowing them to have a drink once in while from the age of around 16.
We discovered just how wrong we were the hard way. We took our son to a family party when he was 17 and bought him 2 drinks to have for the night. We believed we were doing the right thing, he had agreed that he would drink that and that only and we trusted him. My brother gave him many more drinks and he got drunk while we were inside (we thought he was safe with family, apparently not.)
From that day we have not allowed any of our kids below drinking age to drink and we have had many conversations about how much safer and healthier it is to wait. Oh and one of my favourite things to tell them is that drinking becomes no fun if you do it to excess.
This parenting gig sure can be hard work sometimes but all we can do is our best.

Lady Jewels Diva said...

Unfortunately every choice has two outcomes.

I had a shandi at 8, it was more lemonade than beer and I probably never had it again. I have no addiction to alcohol. I didn't go on binges the moment I turned 18 although some people assumed I would. Now, at nearly 40 I still like a shandi in summer, still more lemonade than beer, and rarely touch anything else. When I do it's something like a Vodka Breezer, other than that, just not interested in alcohol. Or smoking, even though all five siblings smoke and my parents smoked while having me and didn't stop until I was 5.

And that's the way it is. Regardless of letting a child have a sip here or there, what happens after the age of 18 is really up to them. Many go on binges simply for the fact they can, many just aren't interested. It's their choice regardless of whether they had it as a kid or not. Once 18 their stupid choices are their own stupid fault, even if you drum into their heads for 18 years that it's bad for you. They just don't give a shit!

While drinking is legal at age 18 nothing will change. Kids, who are mentally and physically unable to cope with alcohol consumption will continue to consume it because they think it's cool to get pissed, chuck their guts up in the gutter and kill themselves or someone else.

It won't change because adults won't change it. They talk about it, to help kids out with these one punch scenarios, but no one is actually changing the law, upping the age limit, giving out fines, or throwing them in jail for a night or more.

Kids, which at 18 they still are, will continue to make the choice to get shit-faced regardless of how they've been raised or what they are told. said...

Hey Lady Jewels Diva

I agree with you to some extent there, that parents can have all the best intentions, follow the rules, but still the kids will drink to get plastered before and/or after they turn 18. And yes, at 18 years old, they are still kids. But I think kids do learn a great deal about the attitudes to alcohol from their parents.

My dad had a drink or two every day after work and on the weekends at lunch or dinner. He never got drunk but it was a ritual. After I finished my first day at the office my dad gave me a Strongbow (my drink at the time - it was 1993) on a silver platter to congratulate me for my first day at work. It instilled the belief in me that it is normal to drink every day. I went on to then take that a hundred steps further to turn a glass into a whole bottle of wine or two a day. I don't blame my dad for that, I am responsible for my own actions, but the idea started at home.

My reasons for turning to alcohol were simple: I was shy, with extremely low self esteem and probably coming out of my first real depression (undiagnosed at the time) when I turned 18. Alcohol gave me the confidence I never had. It gave me a voice at parties or at after work drinks. And then when I started taking speed at 21, the speed gave me the ability to drink even more alcohol and even more confidence, or more likely arrogance.

I truly believe that if I had better self esteem as a kid (and as I grew to be an adult) I wouldn't have gone on the hunt for alcoholic oblivion every weekend which in turn led to it becoming every night as my bingeing snowballed into drinking every single day. It also didn't help that I have a genetic predisposition to alcoholism.

People drink to get drunk to escape reality. If a person's reality is pretty good, surely the need to get blotto all the time becomes null and void.


PS. re the coward's punch and other alcohol related violence and what should be done about it - that is a whole other blog post! said...

That's great that you kept your promise to your mum. I will ask Ned for a similar promise.

Can't say I agree with going back to Victorian times though. As a single mum, I'd never survive being a social outcast! ;)

V. said...

Hey Jessie

You are right, parenting is hard. I think most parents go into it with all the right intentions but so much of it is a situation of learn through experience. And each kid responds to discipline and learning in a different way. Like you said, all we can do is our best!

Thanks for commenting and sharing your experience.


rhonda hartman said...

I was too young, but it wasn't allowed by my parents. I did it at a friends house. The legal drinking age here is 21, and I really hope my son waits. Addiction runs on both sides of his family, so really the longer he can wait the better. said...

I wonder if it is better to make kids wait until they are 21? Maybe it is. It would be hard to now have Aussie kids wait another three years before having a drink, when they have been working, voting and driving as adults by then. I'm sure there are studies out there that would show which law has better outcomes for young people. I might look into that.

I remember when I turned 18, I was so defiant and proclaimed to anyone who would listen that I was now an adult, but I was far from it. I really didn't give up my adolescence until I fell pregnant with my son and got sober. And I was 33 years old by then!

Thanks for your comment, Rhonda.


Josie A said...

I think if we were living in a country like Italy where kids drink from a young age but learn to do so in a responsible way eg at meals and in moderation then I would have no problem.
The big problem here is the terrible binge drinking culture among young people.
My parents let me drink at family bbqs etc from when I was about 14 and I have to say it did take some of the mysticism and forbidden appeal away. But we don't have family dependency history.
My kids are still young but when the time comes I might try it with them within reason and under supervision. I'm certainly not going to buy them alcohol like I've heard of some parents doing.

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