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Thursday, November 3, 2011

How Does Your Drinking Affect Your Teens?

I drink. Not heavily but I do drink a glass of wine and sometimes two most nights. Sometimes I have a glass of wine at dinner and don't eat anything. My kids' dad drinks a bottle of wine each night. He has throughout their entire childhood. When we were together, we used to open a bottle and I'd have a glass, want another half of one later on, and it would be gone.

I have friends who drink - heavily in front of their kids. They have friends over and they get drunk. Mostly not on weeknights but on weekends a lot of beer and other alcohol is consumed. Some of these friends have problems with alcohol - at least I think they do. A number of them get in the car and drive home afterwards.

When we were teens everyone drank heavily, drove and didn't worry about what their kids saw. My research for the AAAS book Delaying that First Drink: A Parents' Guide found that parents' drinking matters. And we're not just talking about when they are teens and you're talking to them and monitoring their behavior. It starts when they are really small - old enough to know what alcohol is.

My children's father once took our five year-old son to a local wine store and the proprietor asked him what his favorite wine was. My son said Chardonnay. Don't kid yourself, they are paying attention.

The experts say, that your best bet is not having alcohol in your home or drinking in front of your kids. Ask a parent if they're going to do that and they'll just start laughing. Parenting sometimes requires a glass of wine, plus alcohol is legal. Not everyone is a yogi or can vegetate out in front of a football game. So parents do drink. Unless of course there is alcoholism in the family and they are scared of what could happen.

So what can you do to make sure your drinking doesn't encourage your teen to do so? This is what I've found:

  • Don't drink heavily in front of your kids
  • Keep minimal alcohol in the house and if you keep some, check it frequently. Wine is better than beer because kids don't drink it and you know it's missing. Beer will go to a party a lot faster than a sauvignon blanc.
  • Never, ever drink more than a glass or at most two if you're a man of alcohol and drive your kids anywhere. You may feel sober, but chances are you're not. You're also likely to be legally drunk if you get stopped. Is it worth it? I don't think so.
  • If you have friends that drink excessively get new friends or stop taking your kids to their home. Go when you have a babysitter and they don't have to see it. Even if you are not drinking much, your being there is tacit approval for their drinking. It sends the wrong message.
  • Don't be afraid to let your kids taste alcohol as they get towards their teenage years. If you forbid something, it becomes more seductive. Most of the time, kids don't like the taste of alcohol, that's why they drink beer. There's nothing wrong with letting them see that they don't like it in the privacy of your own home.
Anyone else have suggestions?

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