Underage binge drinking and drunkenness is an ever-growing problem among teenagers and young adults. In one CDC survey, 29% of high school students surveyed said they had drunk some amount of alcohol in the past 30 days. In today’s fast-paced, interconnected world, where teens are exposed to more peer pressure than ever before, both on and offline, where do parents fit in? This is especially worrying given the popularity of TikTok – and its prevalence of videos with alcohol hashtags that feature potentially dangerous alcohol use portrayed in a positive light. So, can parents who let their teenage children sip or share alcoholic drinks with them prevent teen drunkenness, or will they just be blamed for increasing it?
We examine three arguments for and three arguments against sharing alcohol with your teenage children.
Three Reasons Why it’s OK to Lightly Drink with Your Teenage Kid(s)
It removes the excitement of the taboo
As we all know, forbidden fruit tastes the sweetest. If you allow your teens to sip alcohol with you at home, you could remove some of the anticipation and novelty of alcohol for them. In fact, light drinking with your teenage children may help them prevent developing drinking habits as young adults. One study noted that only a quarter of teens who were allowed to sip alcohol with their parents early on had drunk a full alcoholic drink by the end of ninth grade. Additionally, research has suggested that teens whose parents drink with them are less likely to develop alcohol problems than their peers.
They’re doing it anyway
You’ll probably succeed in preventing your preteens from drinking alcohol. However, once they turn 16 or so, it is likely that their high school friends may be drinking, which means alcohol could be easily available to them. So, what’s safer? Allowing your teenager(s) to safely taste alcohol under your supervision (like what happened during the pandemic, when 1 in 6 parents first allowed their adolescents have an alcoholic drink at home during shutdowns) or take the chance that they’re consuming alcoholic drinks or riding in cars with teenage drivers without your knowledge?
If your kids know that you don’t disapprove of them drinking in safe and legal environments, they won’t need to hide it from you. Plus, you’ll be able to warn your teens in a non-judgmental way about the dangers of drinking with strangers and at parties. Let’s face it, they’ll be more willing to take your advice to heart when it’s not a stern lecture or scolding after-the-fact.
It models responsible drinking
Drinking with your adolescents allows you to model responsible alcohol consumption, emphasize the importance of not drinking and driving, and teach them to respect the power of alcohol by knowing their limits. If your kids have the chance to drink alcohol safely, they are more likely to learn when to stop before they get drunk. Helping them learn their limits may be key in preventing future incidents of alcohol poisoning from binge drinking and, possibly, premature death. Parents can take the opportunity to point out what alcohol does to their ability to make decisions.
Three Reasons Why it’s not OK to Lightly Drink with Your Teenage Kid(s)
It teaches them to drink at too young of an age
Adolescents who begin drinking at a younger age are actually more likely to become alcohol-dependent when they are older than someone who only begins drinking at age 21. Drinking with your teenagers teaches them early in life to like alcohol. Even if you warn them about the dangers of alcohol, your teens are more likely to absorb the unspoken message that their drinking is fine because you permit it. Even one sip can become an issue. The CDC reports that excessive drinking is responsible for more than 3,500 deaths and 210,000 years of potential life lost among people under age 21 each year.
Looks can be deceiving
An adolescent’s physiology is not the same as a small adult. Therefore, their bodies cannot process alcohol as effectively as an adult in relation to their size. Although you might think you are only letting your teenager have a safe amount to drink, you actually cannot tell how much it will affect them. As it is parents’ top priority to protect their teenage children from undue harm, which could include unintentional alcohol poisoning, holding off on sharing alcohol with them seems the safest precaution to take.
It can lead to too many health risks
Sure, it may only seem innocent enough to share one can of beer or a single glass of wine with your teenager, but if the critics are right, even the smallest amount of alcohol can lead to clouded judgement and the possibility of heavier drinking in the near future. If that’s the case, there are many physical (and preventable) health risks that could arise.
For instance, multiple studies have indicated that teenage drinking can lead to various physical growth and health problems. These include lower bone density, problems with liver functions and hormone development. The latter is vital for ensuring proper organ and bone development. Let’s also not forget that an adolescent’s brain is not yet mature. Therefore, alcohol can be extremely damaging to their neurological development. For instance, impulse control is more likely to be affected by early alcohol consumption.
The Bottom Line: What matters more? Permitting your teenage kids to drink alcohol with you, or what attitude toward alcohol you serve along with the drink? Do you think casually sharing alcoholic drinks with your teenage children will help them drink more responsibly?