“Oh, I’m responsible for the consumption of my fair share of alcohol!” a friend laughed when I told her that April was Alcohol Responsibility Month. Alcohol is often a subject of humor in our society, but teaching our kids about it really is no joke.
In fact, I wasn’t giggling at all when, on the first day of April in a crowded, colorful tapas restaurant in New York City, Alcohol Responsibility Month got really real for me and my family.
We had traveled to the city for a long weekend over Spring Break, my daughter’s very first visit to the Big Apple. A college friend met us at our hotel and we walked to dinner. He picked a fun neighborhood spot that featured Spanish food. In addition to a wide array of delicious tapas dishes, the menu featured many kinds of sangria. My friend ordered a pitcher, and soon after, a waiter served everyone at the table. Including my daughter.
It was like the needle scratched across a record and everything came to a halt. My child is nowhere close to being of drinking age. Not even in the ballpark.
I was glad that I had prepared and that we had discussed the many topics around drinking before. This was the first time, though, that we had put those conversations into action. I was reminded that Alcohol Responsibility Month is not just about our kids, but also our roles as parents. I was reminded in a direct way that it’s our responsibility to be clear with ourselves and our kids on where we stand on underage drinking and why, what we are comfortable with, and to educate our kids about the facts.
My child knew where I stood on underage drinking.
She glanced at me quickly and then we both started to say, “No, thank you.” While I understand that it may be acceptable in other cultures to drink, my child knows that our family culture is one where it’s not okay until you’re legally of age. I was glad to see her say no, and to know that she could reply in a way that was short and direct. I was grateful for the opportunity to see her say “no” and to praise her directly for doing so, as the experts suggest when it comes to helping kids say “no.”
I find that having facts is really helpful, both for me and for my daughter. If you want the facts on how alcohol affects your child’s developing mind, check out this fun animated series that you can watch with your kids. I want her to understand that my stance on alcohol isn’t random, but based on what the consequences of drinking alcohol can be. I’m glad to have shared that information before this moment – it would have been tough to convey clearly over the din of conversation (and the one enthusiastic “Opa!” For the sound of a plate shattering) in a crowded restaurant.
Know how you’ll respond to “just a sip.”
Of course, parenting is rarely, if ever, a one and done endeavor. I was reminded of that quickly when my college friend asked, “She can have just a sip, can’t she?”
For a second, I felt like I was an adolescent again, in a festive but unfamiliar environment. I was reminded of the peer pressure that surrounds alcohol, and I was glad that I had given this matter some thought ahead of time.
I typically think of the issue of sipping around the holidays and celebrations, but this was a good reminder that issues surrounding alcohol can crop up any time and often when you least expect it. (I find this is true of most issues in parenting.) Ask, Listen, Learn has this helpful infographic on what parents say if kids ask for a sip of alcohol, including the fact that adults who had their first sip of alcohol prior to age 15 were seven times more likely to experience alcohol problems than those who did not drink until age 21.
Parents really do matter.
I explained to my friend that we’ve often discussed in our house our belief as adults that kids and alcohol don’t mix. My friend likes to play devil’s advocate a little bit and countered, “But isn’t it the kids with those parents who end up drinking anyway?”
It’s possible that, in the past, I would have felt some self-doubt with that statement. Now, however, it didn’t shake my resolve at all. I was grateful to know that studies show that parents are the most influential person or thing in a child’s decision whether or not to drink alcohol.
I realize that I can’t guarantee my child won’t drink, but the data indicates that my influence has an impact.
Not every kid is drinking.
I like being able to remind my daughter that she is far from alone and is, in fact, in good company of other kids not drinking. Statistics show that consumption rates are the lowest levels among 8th, 10th and 12th grade students since the early 1990s when tracking of this data began. Seventy-seven percent of 8th graders report they have never consumed alcohol. She is far from alone in choosing a healthy lifestyle, one that doesn’t include sangria.
Once she had a non-alcohol beverage, I proposed a toast. We raised our glasses to a time in the future when my daughter is 21 and we can all enjoy a drink together.