It is funny as a parent how much you worry about your child’s friends pressurising her to have her first drink. After several incidents with my daughter recently, I’ve found out that it’s not her friends I have to worry about.
My 15-year old was recently pressured to take her first drink by a 24-year old at a party we all attended. Within minutes of quizzing her on her age, the school she attended and what she wanted to be when she grew up – this woman felt obliged to offer my underage child an alcoholic beverage! My daughter politely refused, but this young lady, proceeded to border on badgering my child for 15 minutes to have a drink. She even tried reasoning that it would be “OK” because the beer she was offering had low alcohol and would therefore be “harmless”.
On each occasion, my daughter politely refused. But the harassment continued. Another parent, with an 8-year old, tried to intervene by telling the woman she should stop hounding my daughter, only to be told to “take her mother’s hat off and butt out.”
Unfortunately, this is not the first time that an adult has pressured my daughter to have her “first drink.” Last year at an engagement party an older mother offered my then 14-year old daughter and her 13-year old friend their first drink. “It’s only a cooler and you can drink half of it if you like.” Again, my daughter refused. This woman however was unrelenting. She held my daughter up in the kitchen later, telling her “Now your mother isn’t watching, do you want a drink?” I was relieved my daughter held her ground.
What I don’t understand is why some adults think it’s ok to offer alcohol to under aged children. I wonder if they’re thinking their action will help the teen assimilate into adulthood by doing so.
I attended an alcohol awareness program for parents and being a seminar junkie, I took my child along. The female police officer opened my eyes to the potential dangers of drinking at an early age, which I think made a huge impact on my daughter’s decision to remain abstinent, at least for the time being.
Potential dangers of drinking at an early age
- When a child hits their teenage years, their brain goes through a transformational process. Hundreds of neuro-pathways open up and the information the brain receives over the next 7 years lays the foundation of how that child will behave as an adult.
- Teens that drink regularly, run the risk of becoming alcoholics later on in life. If ‘the need’ to drink becomes impregnated onto these new pathways then the groundwork to drink more regularly as an adult has been laid.
- Teenage drinking also has the potential to kill off established pathways. It is therefore possible that vital information learnt in your childhood, can simply be erased.
- The frontal cortex where the reasoning for right and wrong is still underdeveloped – therefore excessive drinking can occur because the mechanism to know when to stop has not yet fully developed. (In the United States of America, that is why the drinking age is 21 because by then the cortex is fully developed.)
- She even touched on the subject that I think hit home the most, girls who drink can become the target of others. She spoke of girls who only had one or two drinks and became unconscious only to learn days later that naked photos were taken and plastered all over Facebook for all to see.
- She detailed horror stories that included girls who had been raped or been too intoxicated to refuse sex. The saddest of all was of a girl who was so humiliated by her rape, that she eventually committed suicide.
The police officer brought home the reality that Australia has actually developed an unhealthy drinking culture and we as parents are leading the way. If you speak to any adult, they will confirm that unless they have a medical condition, they will indulge in at least one alcoholic drink when they go out. They feel it is like a rite of passage, or an insult not to do so.
Teens (without their fully developed logic) therefore process and internalise that: in order to have a good time, one must drink.
What can parents do?
I’ve even seen parents highlight the dangers of drinking, only to over indulge at their next outing. What part does the parent not understand about monkey see monkey do? I think back to the young woman from a few nights ago and ponder the kind of role models she must have had to think drinking at such a young age was ok.
As the daughter of an alcoholic, I’ve experienced firsthand the damage drinking can do and I make a conscious decision to ensure my daughter sees me having fun with and without drinking alcohol. As role models for our children, I know that while at times this can be difficult, I believe it is necessary.
Perhaps all parents could hope for is an experience similar to a friend’s son who told me how special his first drinking session was. At 12.01 on his 18th birthday, he went with his parents and grandparents to Crown Casino where they all enjoyed his first drinking experience. Some may say that that kind of thinking is old fashioned, but for him a most memorable occasion and one I hope to replicate.
So to all those adults who think that offering a teen a drink will help assimilate them into being an adult I say think again. Every drink has the potential to do damage.