It's Only A Beer! How Parents' Attitudes Make It Harder For Teens Who Drink
"My fifteen-year-old daughter came home after two in the morning last night," a distraught parent told the therapist. "She smelled like a whiskey bottle mixed with Altoids breath mints. She could hardly walk. But like always, she tells me she hasn't been drinking."
The counselor raised an eyebrow and asked, "So. Are you going to believe what she says? Or are you going to trust your guts?"
Sometimes parents take a long time to come around to the truth: their son or daughter is not just out there being popular and having a good time partying. Their kid is an alcoholic who needs to be in rehab.
How did this happen? How did the adorable kindergarten ballerina or the cute Peewee football player become an alcoholic before high school graduation? How did the two people in the world who love this child the most -mom and dad-allow it to happen? Why did they look the other way for so long?
Professionals who help teenage alcoholics say that the reason lies partly within American ambivalence toward teenage drinking
Americans do not seem ambivalent about teen drinking. American laws are strict with teens who drink: our police arrest them and our courts hand down punishments. Americans have set up elaborate anti-teen drinking institutions like the DARE program, Mothers Against Drunk Driving, Lock-down Graduation Nights, anti-drinking television advertising, and so forth.
Yet the truth is that most American parents are on the fence about the issue. Most parents actually expect their children to drink before age twenty-one years old (the legal age). It's just beer! Kids will be kids! Let them have their fun and enjoy their youth!
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Let's look at some statistics.
- In an extensive scientific 2006 survey done by the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse (CASA) at Columbia University, 80% of parents of teen-agers agreed that it is normal for their children to drink before age twenty-one.
- A Teen Today study by Students Against Drunk Driving found out that over half (53%) of American parents of teenagers believe drinking is just part of growing up. Twenty-two percent of the parents believe children should make their own decisions about drinking (without adult interference).
- The Century Council, a liquor trade association, found that nearly half of mothers of teenage girls their survey believe it is okay for their daughters to drink and 20% believe that drinking is a natural part of growing up.
".Parents are like the three monkeys," said Joseph A. Califano, CASA's chairman. "They see no beer, smell no pot and don't hear all hell breaking loose in the family room because of the alcohol and drugs. . They don't understand the world their children are living in. There is a lot of denial here."
Since the majority of parents have mixed feelings about teenage drinking, it is very hard for them to recognize their own child's alcoholism if it shows up. It is especially hard to face if the child is only in middle school. Yet half of all eighth graders have experimented with liquor, and those who do start the experiment in their early teens are five times more likely to become full-fledged alcoholics before age twenty.
All parents see their children in the best possible light. They want to believe a child who is says he or she only drinks every now and then. They want to trust the kid who says, "C'mon, Dad, so I had a beer! Didn't you have beer when you were my age?"
The telltale signs are there. Your kid is going out a lot and coming home late. You don't like the crowd he's with. You don't like the way her grades are falling. You don't like how all he cares about is going out and "socializing." You know she's lying to you. Are you going to trust your guts? Are you going to get the professional help and intervention your child needs? It may be the most important question you ask yourself today.