Alcohol is involved in the death of 5,000 young people under the age of 21 every year. More than 25% of all alcohol consumed in the US is guzzled by teenagers. Experts agree that alcohol is the drug of choice for teenagers today, but nobody can agree on who is to blame.
The debate has raged for decades, but with the recent escalation of binge drinking by teenagers nationwide, the battle has heated up again. The most recent Center for Disease Control report detailsthat a total of 54.9% of high school seniors have drank alcohol in the last 30 days. Furthermore, 40.4% of male high school seniors admit to having at least 5 or more drinks at one time – the working definition of binge drinking – during the last month.
So over half of all of our seniors are “current” drinkers, and almost half of our male seniors are binge drinkers.
That’s a lot of Budweiser!
With those numbers, it’s easy to see why so many people want to figure out who the bad guy is.
Who is Responsible?
Who should we point our finger at? Can we justifiably blame the beer and liquor companies for brewing their intoxicating beverage? Perhaps our concern should be with the schemes of advertising agencies who market alcohol in ways sure to be seen by teenagers. Or maybe we need look no further than “kids today” to find our culprit.
Most of us are aware of many of the underlying factors that contribute to the problems associated with alcoholism (socioeconomics, race, education, history, etc). When you introduce all those players into the game, it’s easy to get distracted or even discouraged by all the things we seem to have little or no control over. So, let’s spend just a few minutes on the one thing we have absolute control over.
We need to lead by example. In one of Jonathan McKee’s recent parenting workshops, he said, “You can teach what you know, but you can only reproduce who you are.”
If anything can be gleaned from recent news stories about parents and alcohol, it’s that we have a lot of work to do to repair our image in teens’ eyes.
For example, in Ypsilanti, MI a man was arrested for driving under the influence…with his 12-year old son in the car! Police instructed the boy to call his mother to come to the scene to pick him up. The boy complied, and when the mother arrived (with their 9-year old daughter in the car) they arrested her for driving drunk as well!
Bound and determined to not get another DUI, one woman from Indiana devised a creative strategyto avoid being arrested for drinking and driving: just let her 5-year old son do the driving.
That’s right. When the 24-year-old mother realized it wasn’t safe for her to do the driving, she handed the car keys over to her toddler. Fortunately, the woman’s efforts were interrupted by concerned neighbors.
The woman did manage to avoid being arrested for drunk driving, but she was booked for “neglect of a dependent” and “public intoxication.” This arrest came four days after she pleaded guilty to a different DUI charge.
Granted, these three parents should have had their procreation licenses revoked, but what about law-abiding parents who consume alcohol? What affect, if any, does it have on teens?
In a recent study on teens and alcohol, parents were quick to place the blame on the big companies.
- Two-thirds of parents said that seeing and hearing alcohol ads make teens more likely to drink.
- Almost three-quarters of parents said that alcohol companies are not doing enough to limit the amount of alcohol advertising that teens see.
- 82% of parents say that teens’ alcohol-related risky behavior is a problem in society today, including 56% who say that it’s a big problem.
The same report went on to reveal a wide gap between parents’ perceptions of teen drinking habits and those habits actually reported by teens themselves. 60% of 15 and 16-year olds reported drinking alcohol in the last year, but only 31% of this same group’s parents thought they had.
Another study suggests parents may be staring the problem in the face when they look in the mirror. The Peak Wellness Institute found that a majority of parents (67%) believe that when they drink alcohol in front of their children, it “definitely or to some extent” makes alcohol more appealing to children.
That’s an eye-opening self indictment. The president of The Institute for Youth Development, Shepherd Smith, suggests that binge drinking can be stopped before it starts if parents refuse to have alcohol in the home. “What studies have shown is that when kids have access to a substance, they’re more likely to use it.” “When they see adults using or participating in a behavior, they’re much more apt to participate themselves.”
My intention is not to preach “teetotalism” over responsible drinking (we’ve had that discussion before). My intention is to address the gap between parent perception and the reality of our kids’ behavior. The problem isn’t going away by itself. It needs to be addressed.
Currently, there is no shortage of discussion about this subject. Some are talking about increasing the minimum drinking age to solve the problem while others want to lower the drinking age to fix it.
With all the talk that’s going on, let’s not forget the most important conversation we can have as parents: the conversations with our children.
As parents, let’s take a moment and think about this:
- Have we ever talked with our kids about drinking?
- How many times?
- Was it a lecture or a two way conversation?
- When we have these kinds of conversations, what percentage of time do we spend listening compared to talking?
- Would our kids say that they feel comfortable talking to us about serious issues?
- Do our actions match our words?
When it comes to alcohol, it’s imperative that we routinely communicate with our teenagers (that means talking and listening). If we are serious about giving warnings, we must also be serious about receiving difficult questions. Those conversations are rarely easy, but they can be life-changing, or life-saving.
David R. Smith
David R. Smith is the author of several books including Christianity... It's Like This and speaks to parents and leaders across the U.S. David is a 15-year youth ministry veteran, now a senior pastor, who specializes in sharing the gospel, and equipping others do the same. David provides free resources to anyone who works with teenagers on his website, DavidRSmith.org David resides with his wife and son in Tampa, Florida.