Parenting Possibilities: Keeping Our Kids Safe
Keeping Our Kids Safe: Other Persepectives
My almost 10 year old has been curious about alcohol lately. The other day he picked up my glass and asked me what I was drinking. I just answered him honestly and said that it was hard cider and explained that it was like regular cider with alcohol in it. He asked if he could try it and I said no.
After that moment I reflected on whether it would not have been so bad if I let him have a sip. The idea stuck with me. It made me think about the various approaches to alcohol and youth around the world. It seems apparent that U.S. teenagers have some of the highest rates of alcohol abuse in the world. The U.S. is also only one of seven countries around the globe that has chosen 21 to be the legal drinking age. Every other country either has a younger legal age or no minimum age.
I realize that this subject may trigger some of you. I write these thoughts not to profess I know what is best but to bring my perspective to the table. I also chose this subject to generate a conversation as I can imagine many parents feel concern about alcohol use and their kids. As a parent, I would give my right arm to know that my future teenage sons will sail through their adolescents with no issues around alcohol but I am also realistic and frightened that that will probably not be the case.
So as parents, how can we keep our kids safe?… Making alcohol a forbidden fruit does not seem like the right solution. Underage and binge drinking is rampant today in the U.S. and that worries me much more then having alcohol be a regular aspect of life. For an example of what that concept looks like I will refer to the Island of St. John.
Last year my family and I traveled to St. John for vacation. We were with my parents and my sister’s family as well. We were going to celebrate my Father’s 75th birthday and there was a very festive feel to the trip. Besides having some of the most gorgeous beaches on earth, St. John is also are very lenient and relaxed about alcohol. Surprisingly, I was told they also have lower crime rates and fewer drinking and driving incidents then the states.
It is not uncommon to see a juice or smoothie cart along your way where they offer to throw a shot of rum in if you would like. You can walk around with a drink or order a beer to go at drive-thru windows. On one particular evening in St. John we were strolling through town. I spotted a sign announcing that a bar nearby was serving free tastings of local homemade beer. My wife and I wanted to try it out. We gave our kids the choice to stay with Grandma and Grandpa or come with us. They came with us. By the way, this is not a choice I would have made in the states.
As we approached the bar, a young and friendly bartender asked us if we were interested in the tastings. We said yes and all 4 of us grabbed a bar stool. She then said something about our kids being cute and would they like to taste the local root beer soda they also made on site. There was nothing odd about the experience and we all enjoyed a tasty drink.
In comparison, one time at a Northampton, MA restaurant, our 9 year old asked to sit at the not crowded bar while we were waiting for our food so he could see the baseball game on TV better. We gave him permission to do so and in 5 minutes he came back embarrassed and upset as the bartender shamed him for attempting to even sit at the bar.
I believe that if a person can vote, die for one’s country, work and be considered a legal adult at eighteen, it seems to me that they should absolutely have the choice to drink. I think that education, communication and an expectation of responsibility around alcohol use is far more useful in keeping our kids safe then raising the legal age. Your thoughts?
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Shana Hiranandani shares a home with her two boys, her partner of 12 years, a big dog and a small cat in the Pioneer Valley of Western MA. Shana earned a B.A. in Psychology from UMass Amherst and a M.A. in Counseling Psychology from Antioch New England College. Shana is a Board Certified Life and Career Coach, offering consultations from her office in Florence, MA. Her monthly column offers parenting perspectives from a Jewish-Indian-American, 2-mommy household.
[Photo credit: (cc) a. daza]
It’s hard. I know the answer is different for each kid and each family. Unfortunately, one answer doesn’t fit all. :(
Thanks so much for your thoughts Dave Harmon. As always, you bring a very entertaining and thoughtful perspective!
Much of why Jews historically have low rates of alcoholism(not zero, but low) has to do with our holiday culture, where wine is written into several ceremonies, but drunkenness isn’t. I think “letting the kids taste” is an important part of familiarizing and demystifying alchohol. (*Especially* the times when it’s a pretty good bet that the kid will go “ew!”. ;-) )
Of course, the biggest factor in the kids’ socialization, is their parents’ example. If everybody’s getting blotto, that’s what the kids learn. On the other hand, if the host goes around collecting people’s car keys after a few drinks, the kids at least learn not to drive after….
I think it’s also important to let middle-to-older kids have some supervised experience with drunkenness too. My own formative experience regarding drink was the Passover when I was 12 or so, and decided to “drink the four glasses of wine”. I’m told they cut me off after the second, but I still woke up on Grandpa’s couch. And learned that I was now too big for the family to carry me out to the car etc…. Since then, I’ve made a point of never getting falling-down drunk outside crawling range of my own bed (not often then, mind you).