Saturday, March 29, 2008

Teaching about responsible drinking 

This is something that has needed to be said for some time:

“The best evidence shows that teaching kids to drink responsibly is better than shutting them off entirely from it,” he told me. “You want to introduce your kids to it, and get across the point that that this is to be enjoyed but not abused.”

He said that the most dangerous day of a young person’s life is the 21st birthday, when legality is celebrated all too fervently. Introducing wine as a part of a meal, he said, was a significant protection against bingeing behavior.

There is much that is romantic in this article about the joys of wine and such, but to me it is a much simpler question. I drink something with alcohol perhaps 340 nights per year (around twice a month I work too late or for some other reason do not imbibe), yet have been drunk twice in my life, both times in connection with initiation ceremonies. I do not understand the appeal of anything more than the mildest intoxication, and find myself somewhere between bemused and irritated when I hear somebody declare their ambition to get "shitfaced," as if that were the purpose of social drinking.

To what do I attribute my, er, sober attitude about alcohol? Genes and upbringing, of course. I do not crave alcohol as I understand alcoholics do -- if circumstances prevent me from having a drink I do not get discombobulated. But I was also taught to drink like a grown-up, both by the example of my parents and didactic instruction. My parents usually had beer with dinner, and by the time I was 16 or so I was allowed to join in. They made it clear that alcohol was deeply embedded in Western civilization, that there was nothing wrong with consuming it every day, and that it was entirely unacceptable to get drunk (my father's famously destructive Fish House Punch notwithstanding). In my opinion, if you yourself consume alcohol -- and thereby set the example of it -- it is your obligation to teach your children about it with useful nuance and texture rather than the prohibitionism that seems to be favored among the promoters of the D.A.R.E. curriculum. Accordingly, it should be entirely lawful and socially acceptable for minors to consume alcohol in the presence of their parents, whether at home or in a restaurant. Otherwise, you are running the risk of unleashing a future moron into the world.


By Blogger Paul, at Sat Mar 29, 08:55:00 PM:

Couldn't agree more. My daughter is of drinking age, and had been exposed to many fine wines from the age of 15 onward. We drink responsibly (somewhat less frequently than the host) and have always taught the same for the kids. Our son is a college cross-country and track runner who claims to never have taken a drink of any kind to date. He has plenty of fun and stress relief without it so far.

I'm half a glass into a cheap but entirely passable cabernet (Kunde Estates) right now and think it adds too much to life to foreswear.

Cheers, honorable host!  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Sun Mar 30, 05:14:00 AM:

I was thinking about bringing a similar program to select frat houses: "Teaching about responsible date rape."  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Sun Mar 30, 08:02:00 AM:

"Anon" - if you had decided to sit down and write a comment that would communicate the maximum possible cluelessness about the topic under discussion, you could not have done better than the one you left. Congrats.


By Blogger Bruce, at Sun Mar 30, 08:03:00 AM:

Remember the MIT student who died after drinking a bottle of Captain Morgan's? His parents were shocked something like that could happen, because "he NEVER drank". There you go. Whether the "evil" you want to protect your children from is alcohol, firearms, or drugs, you aren't doing your kids any favors by denying their existence. Real education is the first step toward teaching personal responsibility. There isn't a politician anywhere who can teach your kids right from wrong. That job is the sole responsibility of the parents.

(that was from a post I wrote four years ago)  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Sun Mar 30, 08:46:00 AM:

My upbringing allowed me to watch my father drink an evening beer. If he ever got drunk I never saw it. When I was a teen I craved peer attention and willingly pursued the drinking to get drunk route. Fortunately for me I discovered that I didn't like alcohol. It seemed that everything tasted like flavored ethanol, not very pleasant for me. Since those days I became a Christian, a fundamental Christian, and raised my kids to look at the motives behind the pursuit of drinking and ask themselves if the risk was worth the effort. There were an overwhelming number of examples of consequences of risk miscalculation in drinking that served as didactic material. I don't begrudge anyone their desire to drink but I am never short of entertainment observing the drinking culture (many holiday luncheons). So far the results with my now adult kids have been pretty good. They appear to have found pleasure and contentment in far less riskier pursuits.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Sun Mar 30, 08:55:00 AM:

Yeah, that Jesus was terrible for making all that water into wine. How irresponsible of him!

Why in the world does "fundamentalist Christian" mean no drinking? That's insane and unbiblical and ahistorical for the actual Christian faith.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Sun Mar 30, 09:03:00 AM:

If you've never been "shitfaced", don't knock it. It can be ugly, but it can also be a burly, cathartic release. People don't repeatedly get drunk because it's a drag.

All things in moderation - including moderation.  

By Blogger Cincinnatus, at Sun Mar 30, 09:07:00 AM:

If everything actually did taste like ethenol, then I would suspect a casual drinker's motives too.  

By Anonymous feeblemind, at Sun Mar 30, 09:28:00 AM:

In my area the prevailing school of thought seemed to be, better to have your kids learn about drinking at home under adult supervision than learning their limits on the street with peer supervision. But nowadays it is conceivable that a parent might go to jail for serving alcohol to their kids and the kids might end up in the custody of Social Services.  

By Anonymous historian, at Sun Mar 30, 09:31:00 AM:

Three times, Christianity was invaded by Islamic doctrines. The first invasive doctrine was iconoclasm; the second invasive doctrine was holy war; the third invasive doctrine was teetotalism.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Sun Mar 30, 09:37:00 AM:

i don't drink, but I am a gun owner. This is my approach to the gun issue as well: a matter-of-fact approach to the existence/presence/appropriateness of guns--but with repetition and example-setting of the rules and responsibilities of gun ownership/use.  

By Anonymous Amy, at Sun Mar 30, 09:56:00 AM:

I don't drink often...maybe 4 times a year. Never to the point of being drunk. I've never really been drunk..tipsy, but not drunk. I don't like throwing up enough to get "shitfaced". Last New Year's Eve, I bought a nice bottle of wine, and I let of my daughters have half a glass. They weren't real hopped up on it, but we'll do it again this year, and the next. I am also a Christian, and I believe what the Bible says is "Be not DRUNK with wine"...it doesn't say "don't drink it it". There's nothing wrong with a glass of wine at dinner. There's something wrong with someone who gets falling down drunk every time they drink....  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Sun Mar 30, 10:36:00 AM:

Over the last several years, I have been conducting an informal poll. Three questions. "Do you drink?" "Do you Drive?" "Do you drink and drive?" I have never had anybody go 2 for 3.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Sun Mar 30, 11:07:00 AM:

I think that early exposure to alcohol can certainly help with diminishing the craziness of the 21st birthday. I believe that alcohol certainly has a place in society, and that the majority of people are capable of drinking responsibly, and even getting loaded every once in a while without it "being a problem."

But for the alcoholic-in-training, it's really not going to matter. For that person, alcohol simply has a different impact on their being. Call it genetics, call it weakness-- it doesn't matter. It becomes an obsession.

We need better systems in place to ferret out young alcoholics and get them exposed to recovery. Too often, alcoholic behavior between 16-22 is dismissed as "kids being kids," and real tragedy ensues.  

By Blogger Jake, at Sun Mar 30, 11:48:00 AM:

"I do not crave alcohol as I understand alcoholics do --"

Jeez, give yourself a chance and see if it works!  

By Anonymous SM, at Sun Mar 30, 11:52:00 AM:

I married someone that became an alcoholic by the time he was 17. He spent about 9 years binge drinking most nights. He finally got his life together in his mid twenties and went back to school and is now doing quite well. However, he can't drink. Ever. We tried a couple of times when we were first married. I am not really a drinker, but he would attempt to have one glass of wine or one or two beers in the evenings... almost without fail, he would end up drinking until he passed out... So now he doesn't drink. And neither do I because I don't particularly enjoy it and truly want to support his sobriety.

But now we have two children. I agree with your suggestion that if you drink, you should teach your children to drink responsibly. But what if you don't drink? Further, what if you don't drink AND you don't wish your children to drink? What if your religion prohibits it? What should those people do? Do you think that honest discussions about this will be sufficient in the absence of a descent example?  

By Anonymous Joe Y, at Sun Mar 30, 11:55:00 AM:

I'd hesitate to say that parents teaching responsible drinking would moderate, let alone prevent, drunkeness. (Although if it's true, praise the Lord my parents didn't keep a dry house, or I'd really be a wreck), but I definitely agree with rh potfry that it would greatly improve the odds of survival at the most dangerous moments, i.e. the 21st b-day, collegiate alcohol poisoning, etc. Another incidental and unplanned benefit is that my kids recognize the difference between good and bad. Even my oldest, who cares little for alcohol, recognized on her own without prompting, that Bud, Coors, et al, are crap, and Sammy A, Brooklyn, etc., are good. As the mass marketers know, it's easy to poor down the bad stuff and get wasted, but it's much harder with the quality brews. There "thickness" means you can only drink so much of them. More importantly, you can't maintain a drunk on the good stuff. Any college kid can drink 12 Buds or whatever in a couple of hours, but a serious lager or IPA? That's a rare breed.  

By Blogger Timothy, at Sun Mar 30, 12:08:00 PM:

We live in a country where it is against the law for parents to teach their children to drink responsibly and then we wonder why so many young people drnk irresponsibly. While I won't claim responsible drinking can be taught to alcoholics, it is very common for them to go through years of excessive drinking before they realize there is anything unusual in their behavior for the simple reason that they were never taught "social drinking". You stop drinking when you pass out or run out of alcohol. That's how it was in college and it often takes years to realize healthy people don't drink that way.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Sun Mar 30, 12:09:00 PM:

As a non-drinker (developed a late life allergic-like reaction) I would agree to let kids acclimatize

God knows, being drawn into power drinking by idiot friends and peer pressure, along with the forbidden aspect of total non-teetotallers, is not the way to do it

GW Crawford (not anon, just not a blogger)  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Sun Mar 30, 01:05:00 PM:

Wish this was just an issue for "kids." I raised my kids in a household where we rarely drank unless we were entertaining & then we definitely did not overindulge, as host & hostess.. often entertaining clients in our home. Even though we had a fine wine cellar full.. and a liquor cabinet. The kids never saw us get drunk, ever.

(Saved that for non-driving vacations after they were grown & gone! HA!)

But, in many industries even today, there is such a huge drinking culture, especially in male-dominated industries. I am appalled to hear about a woman friend who is high level in a financial industry job, who constantly has to attend conferences where booze is pushed the whole damn time, to excess.

I used to work in a male-dominated industry, and also felt the push to "be one of the guys" and drink too much.

Just amazing to me that this nonsense has not died out & with a daughter now in the bond business, I wonder what she is being subjected to. She is definitely a social drinker, having been raised to know the difference, but how sickening to have to hang with a bunch of drunks!


I taught my kids: do not drink & drive, ever.. have a designated driver, always, and your body can only deal with one drink per hour.. pace yourself.. and, know your limit, which is probably 3-4 drinks per night. My son is 6' 6" so he can handle a bit more than his sister. :-)  

By Blogger Synova, at Sun Mar 30, 01:32:00 PM:

SM, As I understand it alcoholism can be inherited, which makes sense if it's genetic, right? So your kids need to understand *why* you don't drink and why it's so important and that they might be able to drink in moderation or they might not and what they need to be aware of.

As for the larger issue... my feeling is that the important part isn't learning to drink responsibly, the important part is in removing two ideas... drinking as a symbol of adulthood, and drinking as rebellion.

My husband and I almost never drink and don't tend to have alcohol in the house, but it's because we don't bother. If we ever do have anything, I like warm sake, the kids get to taste it, or the older ones get to have a little bit.

It's not the mysterious forbidden fruit that they mustn't be allowed until some magical age is reached.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Sun Mar 30, 01:37:00 PM:

Growing up in a different time (fifties) and a different culture (Denmark), where my maternal grandmother was the daughter of a wine merchant I learned early to enjoy the taste of a glass of wine with dinner (1/2 wine + 1/2 water when we were younger). I learned the difference between enjoyment and indulgence.

When I had children of my own we did the same thing. They are now fully grown, my two daughter-in-laws hail from an italian background so everything fits in. We have never had any alcohol or drug related problems in spite of a number of my sons friends having had problems - and I do not expect any of my (future) grandchildren to have any either.

Wine, good beer and fine spirits are some of the good Lord's gifts to be enjoyed in the proper environment.

When my oldest had a graduation party he had two coolers, one with soft drinks and one with beers. A fine time was had by all, but at the end of the evening the beer chest was almost full, whereas the softdrink chest was almost empty.

Quod erat demonstrantum.


By Blogger Brad, at Sun Mar 30, 01:39:00 PM:

Almost everyone that has commented here has some form of responsible behavior. You and your kids are not the problem.

The problem is the dysfunctional families just waiting to explode, over sex, pregnant teens, drugs, or alcohol, pick your poison.

If the drinking age was 14 years old, I would have been fine. Most of you too. But I know some kids that, by increasing the supply, by increasing the availability, it would have sent them to ruin.

It's character, stupid.  

By Anonymous Doc Rampage, at Sun Mar 30, 03:32:00 PM:

I hate to throw cold water on the party, but you can't make reliable generalizations from a few cases that you have observed personally. Let's say that there are three categories:

A. don't drink or drink rarely
B. drink regularly but responsibly
C. drink irresponsibly

There are millions of people who are in category A whose parents were in A, millions in A whose parents were in B, and millions in A whose parents were in C. Similarly for people in category B and C whose parents were in A, B, or C. And if you add a subcategory for those households where their parents let them drink as minors, then there are still millions on all sides of the issue. With all of these millions of cases out there, it gives you virtually no information that you happen to have personal experience with one type of case or another.

The only way to know whether responsible underage drinking with parental guidance is positively correlated with responsible adult drinking is with statistics. And even then there is a good chance of missing some factors for which the results would be reverse.

So, if you want to give your kids the experience of drinking, go ahead, but realistically, you have no idea what the long-term consequences will be, if any.  

By Blogger Assistant Village Idiot, at Sun Mar 30, 03:40:00 PM:

Words of caution here. doc rampage makes an important point. My parents certainly gave an example of responsible drinking, but I started sneaking alcohol in high school and overdarnk in college my first two years.

I made great effort to teach responsible drinking with my four sons, just as is suggested here. The younger two, as sons of a brutally alcoholic father in Romania for the first years of their life, I was even more careful with, and touched no alcohol the first six months they were here. I never drink to excess, though I know have a drink more than half my evenings.

The caution: This seems to have worked marvelously well with the three older boys. The youngest, despite being offered alcohol with meals (if not driving later), does take alcohol with friends when he thinks we don't know. He turns 21 this summer, and does not seem to drink to get drunk or spend his time with heavy drinkers. But his pattern is less clean and clear than his brothers, and I would have to say the book is still out on that one.

Sometimes, wise moderation can be an oversimplified solution as well, perhaps.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Sun Mar 30, 03:58:00 PM:

If the world of advertising and our peers weren't constantly telling us that alcohol is an essential component of a good time, this problem would not be as bad. As it is, the people who don't drink are considered freaks.

I know this, because I'm one of them.  

By Blogger TigerHawk, at Sun Mar 30, 06:30:00 PM:

Anon 3:58 -

Please thicken your skin. First, there was far more drinking in American society before anybody even thought of advertising. Second, there are plenty of tea-totalers in my family, and I am quite certain that none of them regarded themselves as freaks. My great-grandmother quite famously took the WCTU pledge when she was 12 years old and never touched a drop. Apart from some heckling from her brother, I am unaware that she ever felt out of place and she indeed did a fair amount of heckling herself. My grandmother virtually did not drink, other than to take a taste of wine if some unsuspecting host poured it with pride (she not wanting to hurt his feelings). My wife did not drink for many years for any number of reasons. If you are considered a "freak" because you do not drink, your problem is not peer pressure, it is your friends. Get new ones. Seriously.

Anon 1:05 pm - The experience of your daughter in the financial service industry surprises me a bit. In the United States, it has not been acceptable to drink at a business lunch for many years, so that leaves dinner. Now, I have never worked inside a financial services firm, but have been around the industry first as a corporate lawyer (with banker clients) and then as a corporate executive (where I was the client), and I have never once felt pressured to drink more than I wanted. And, yes, despite the fact that I would usually have a beer or wine with dinner I have never felt under the slightest pressure to have more than one or two drinks. Maybe when they are off by themselves they go overboard.

Of course, regular readers probably realize by now that I am the sort of person who affirmatively enjoys going against the grain. If I were in a situation where people were actually pushing alcohol, I would probably claim I was a tea-totaler just to brush them back.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Mon Mar 31, 12:34:00 AM:

I agree that it better for parents to introduce drinking of alcohol to their children when they get about fifteen. Wine at dinner or champagne. When I have large meals Thanksgiving , Christmas, Easter we have wine and my son is given a glass. He is larger than I and has enough body mass to handle a glass or two with a meal.

When I grew up, we belonged to a yacht club and I was at many whiskey sour brunchs. At 13 I was given a drink all the time. I did not like the taste so I surreptiously pour some over the side. I found out that if my glass was empty that it was refilled quickly so I kept my glass half full to prevent that.

My parents often had cocktail parties and it was available always. But I felt no need to sneak a drink becasue it was offered if I wanted. I never saw my parents drunk and my father every night had one or two rum and cokes to unwind.

It became legal to drink at 18 so I did drink at college and would get tipsy but never drunk. The worst was when I turned 21 and went out and started with xombies and sweet rum drink and changed to Barcadi 151. This made me sick and thankfully I got rid of the most of the drink. Did not have any ill effects the next morning until the afternoon when I had severe cramps from the intestinal dehydration.

Never drank 151 again. In my 20's I would go out but after 5 mixed drinks that was my limit and I could still drive. Never got totally smashed just drunk. It was a real hassle since I had to drive 50 miles to home so being too impaired just slowed me down too much.
Later just did not drink that much. I rarely have a drink only every few months. No more than 2 glasses of wine or mixed drinks. I have bad reflux and alcohol has a bad effect on the stomach so I know not to drink too much.

The state usurps too much of parental authority to make decisions for their children. This is just another case of nanny state laws.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Mon Mar 31, 12:23:00 PM:

I drink about as often as TH does, and mostly beer. I have good reds for fancy dinners, and a closet of liquor that will go bad before it gets consumed. I grew up in a house full of booze for parties, most of which Mom poured down a drain 25 years after Dad died.

I wonder if what people consumed has changed, or if I just never caught a taste for the harder stuff? A few fingers of brown booze (single malt or whiskey or bourbon) with a stogie, but that's it.

As for 151 ... mine was Peppermint Schnapps ... college Frat party I threw as social chairman. To this day I can't smell the stuff without thinking about puking my guts up.

Beer rules for me because (a) once I'm full I just can't or want anymore to drink, and (b) it's easy to regulate since I almost never get drunk. Total volume in 2-3 hours is 4 pints. That said ... I lay down the power tools when I've had even a few sips.


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