Letting your teen sip alcohol at home: Good idea or not?

Monday, January 02, 2012

It's the holidays, and some families let their teens or young adults have a sip of wine, beer or liquor to celebrate along with the rest of the family. For some, it's part of a family tradition, having wine with the Christmas ham, tasting alcoholic eggnog and or ringing in the New Year with a beer.

It may seem harmless enough, and acquaintances of mine who do it with their children think it's better to expose their children to limited alcohol in a "safe" environment rather than leave them untested before they go off to college at age 18 yrs.

But the U.S. Surgeon General adamantly disagrees and in fact has issued a strong warning, in a "Call to Action." You can read the sobering report yourself at I printed it out for my 11-year-old to read.

The report says almost 11 million children ages 12-20 are drinking. That's more than smoke cigarettes or use marijuana.

About 10-percent of 12-yr-olds have taken a sip.

That doubles by age 13.

And ½ of all American kids have tried alcohol by 15 yrs. old. That's 50%. And the legal drinking age in most states is 21 yrs. old.

The Surgeon General is alarmed because alcohol is harmful to young people's still-growing bodies and brains. And it can lead to young alcoholism, 4x as often as for adults who didn't drink until they were 21 years old.

Experts say tweens and teens form opinions about alcohol use from their home life, friendships and social clubs or media.

And they get alcohol from adults around them, since they can't buy it themselves.

They tend to binge drink, on average having 5 drinks at a single party or event. They drink up because it's risky, adventurous and what their friends are often doing.

They often drink up because no parents are supervising.

They often drink up to impress a girl or guy they have their eye on.

But the Surgeon General's report says underage drinking often leads to a host of problems: the risk of a physical or sexual attack, death in a car crash, getting a sexually transmitted disease, harming the brain.

So the Surgeon General is calling on all of us to stop sending the cultural message that drinking at a young age is cool, fun and acceptable.

The report encourages parents to:

1. Talk to your teen about drinking, listen to them and respect what they say.
2. Make your opinions about non-alcohol use clear.
3. Teach your children the dangers of drinking underage. Discuss the laws and what your own penalties will be.
A friend of mine recently grounded her 17-year-old daughter for one-year when she found out she was drinking; only one night out with her friends per week and an early curfew on that night for her entire senior year.
4. Tell your teen many ways to have fun without alcohol.
5. Do NOT give alcohol to your teens; tell them any alcohol in your home is off-limits to them.
6. Don't let your teens go to parties where alcohol is served.
7. Help your teens avoid riding in a car with someone who has been drinking.
8. Know where your teens are, who they're with and what they're doing at all times.
9. Find ways for your teen to be involved in family life, caring for younger siblings, doing chores, etc.
10. Be loving and caring, but set appropriate limits to your teens' growing independence.
11. Be a good role model yourself, not drinking too often or too much.
12. Get professional counseling if your teen consistently breaks your non-alcohol rules or is depressed.

It's a non-negotiable topic according to the top doctor in the U.S. You can even print out this blog and give it to your teen to start the discussion.

Here's wishing you an open dialogue and good decisions on drinking for your young people.

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