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Moms Talk: Taking the Initiative on Alcohol Use

Your behavior influences your kids much more than your words.

. Rather handily, with its 60 percent yes. The state will get out of the liquor selling business. Costco wins.

I’m willing to bet that some of you think that you know where I stand on this issue. After all, I’m a parenting columnist. It’s pretty obvious I’m a parent. And the No on 1183 people stated pretty clearly that at least half of this issue was stopping underage drinking.

Well, I’m not sharing my voting record in a public forum, but I know very well the main thing that will stop my daughter from drinking: the behavior of the adults in her life.

So...I’m screwed.

When my daughter found out the topic for my column this week, she wanted to be very sure that I told everyone that she said, “alcohol is bad for children.” I’m thrilled that this is her position.

However, I remember my own childhood well enough to know that when she’s a teenager, she will no longer think of herself as a child, so it is doubtful she will continue to think that rule applies to her.

I drink. I’ve talked about the joy of happy hour . I don’t drink regularly—I’m more the couple of times a month out with friends cocktailer than the daily glass of wine with dinner person—but I do drink.

And my kid knows it. When a neighbor wanted to give me a thank you gift, she asked my daughter if a bottle of wine would be an appropriate choice. Her response? With eye roll and emphasis—“Oh yes. My mom likes alcohol.”

The truth is, this will have more impact on her behavior as an adult than anything I say. There is nothing more catching that a parent does than smoking and drinking. You can say whatever you want about them, you can intend to quit, but what your kids see you do, they are very very likely to do when they grow up.

And I don’t really have a problem with this. I don’t mind the thought of her drinking when she grows up. I don’t believe in flat-out forbidding much at all. We have limits in our house, but very few things are absolute no's.

We do a lot of “not yet.”

So what I want is my best chance of delaying her drinking. The research answers seem to be communication, peer groups, and example.

Open lines of communication are the most important. As with sex, drugs, , and anything else big and scary, the most important thing is that your kid can come talk to you. You absolutely cannot share your values if your kid is not listening. If they can’t talk to you, they must have another trusted adult, and preferably one that shares your values.

You don’t have as much control over your kid's choice of friends, but this is another place where makes a difference. The culture about alcohol use at a school has a huge impact. (Studies show that kids from smaller schools drink later too, which makes me happy.) Finding out what your kids and their friends think about alcohol can be vital information.

The last one is the one we parents have the most control over; our example. If you are not going to quit drinking or smoking, your behavior around it is more important than what you say. Don’t have it be your only stress reducer. “I had a hard day and I need a drink,” is teaching them that alcohol fixes a hard day.

Don’t have them around it. Drink out of the house as much as possibly, smoke outside, and never EVER have them “help” you. It is familiarity with the tools of a vice that is the real gateway drug. Having your kid get you a beer out of the fridge is just a step toward having them get one for themselves.

Access is important, but kids are much more likely to get alcohol from their own parents liquor cabinet (or their friends’ parents liquor cabinets) than from Costco. Sure, there are people who will sell to kids, but that is a trickle into the flow of what they get a hold of. In high school, we used to drink Scope, for Pete’s sake. 

If a kid is motivated to drink, they’ll find a way. So our parental job is to demotivate them. Don't glamorize. Make the stories real and vital.

Still. l probably shouldn’t tell that Scope story to my daughter.

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Final note: I can’t be a parent in Redmond this week and not mention Sky Metalwala. There are no answers yet, so I have no real opinion, except to say that I hope with all my heart that he is somewhere safe and is found soon. My thoughts are with his sister as well.

Chris Macbeth November 15, 2011 at 01:33 AM
Well having grown up North of the border where alcohol was only sold in stores you had to be of legal age to enter (including beer, wine and cooler type drinks). Myself and my friends never had trouble getting alcohol when underage. Kids will always find ways to get it. I consider it my job to know where and what my kids do. This doesn't mean I am certain they will not taste alcohol until they are of legal age teens can be sneaky. But I do know it will not be from our house because while I have an occasional drink when out I don't have it at home. I agree with all of your points.

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