In It For Health

Where health and psychology intersect

Archive for June, 2008

Should we be drinking alcohol with our teens?

Posted by Dr. Susan on June 20, 2008

I found this Op Ed type article on the TIME website interesting and in need of addressing. The author–and some of the experts he interviews believe that the best way to curb teen drinking is for parents to drink with their kids, thereby demystifying the idea of alcohol. The theory continues that once teens don’t believe that there is a taboo attached to drinking, they will not feel the need to binge drink, or drink as often.  While it’s a well-written piece I have a big problem with this premise, regardless of the fairly one-sided research that the author sites.

It is very clear to me from my nearly twenty years of work with thousands of teens that if their parents condone alcohol drinking, no matter how scientifically they do it–with sips beginning at 4-years old etc–it gives the teen the idea that it is fine for them to drink elsewhere–with friends in particular, and that their parents won’t be upset.

Furthermore, drinking a small amount with a parent does not fall in the same category, serve the same purpose or even register as THE SAME ACTIVITY as drinking with friends–which teens do specifically to get drunk for any number of reasons. The fact that their parents have allowed them to get used to the taste of alcohol simply escalates their ability to get drunk at an earlier age because they don’t have to go through that process first.

Alcohol is also a gateway to other substance use–marijuana and other drugs. The younger a teen starts drinking, the more likely he or she is to move onto other substances. In addition, the teen brain has not yet matured. Teens are impulsive and don’t always make good decisions–this isn’t every single kid of course, or in every situation. But alcohol doesn’t help. The longer a teen waits to drink, the longer his or her brain to has mature. As far as I’m concerned, every six months is a little closer to maturity, to better imulse control, to better decision making.

What’s more teens don’t necessarily understand the rules the way you may think they do. You may believe you’re communicating that it’s okay for them to drink a little bit with you. They may hear that it’s fine for them to drink at a house party when their friend’s parent is upstairs sleeping–after all a parent is around, what’s the difference. The boundaries become too blurred for you to sort them out and you didn’t even realize it was happening.

So, do I think you should be drinking with your kids? NO, I think it’s a bad decision, that it represents irresponsible parenting and mixed messages. Most parents have no clue what their kids are doing when they aren’t home. What’s most important is that your kids know that you do not want them drinking. So be there to drop them off and pick them up–or at least be awake when they come home–at the end of the night. Talk to them, meet their friends. That’s much more important than worrying about sips of wine when they are still practically babies and then giving them glasses of the stuff as they get older only to increase the possibilty of them becoming alcoholics by the time they are thirteen.

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Teens benefit from 12-step programs

Posted by Dr. Susan on June 13, 2008

A fascinating and I think important study finds that teenagers will benefit from attending Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous, much like their adult counterparts. There has not been a great deal of research on the importance of these programs for teenagers, but as the study suggests, peer groups are important for teens, and so these programs offer new peer groups. My own experience working with many, many teens with substance abuse difficulites over many years is that I have always referred them to AA or NA and found these to be of critical value in my treatment with kids. Aside from the support that a teen gains and the feeling that they are not alone in their struggle, they very often have to give up their entire social circle in order to give up the substance. This is extremely difficult. By going to meetings, they can instantly form a new social circle and don’t have to be alone without friends. This can be pivotal in a teen’s recovery.

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