Ask Dr. Meg: How Should We Use Alcohol in Front of Our Kids?
Last week, I wrote a post about the powerful influence of alcohol advertising on children and teens. That post prompted this question from a reader:
Hi, Dr. Meg!
How should parents present alcohol in their home to their kids?
Assuming Mom and Dad are moderate, responsible drinkers, should they drink with meals or “socially” in the presence of their kids? How should we teach the kids about responsible, legal drinking?
Mom of 3
Dear Mom of 3:
Good questions. Here’s what I tell parents of my patients.
If a parent can drink responsibly, I think that he/she can model to the children how to do so. Parents should teach their kids to have a healthy respect (or fear) of alcohol. If, however, a parent can’t drink without getting drunk, he/she should never drink in front of the kids. When kids see a parent drunk, it makes them very frightened because they feel that they need to “step up to the plate” and take over household responsibilities while the parent is inebriated.
Many parents opt simply not to drink in front of their kids because they don’t want to risk having their kids see them drunk. This is a good idea if a parent is concerned he or she may get drunk.
Many parents ask me if their teenage children should drink in the home alongside parents. Citing this behavior in Europe, they say that they want their kids to learn to be comfortable with alcohol. I don’t agree. First of all, drinking under the age of 21 is illegal in the United States, and I don’t think parents should ever sanction breaking the law (least of all in their homes.) Second, if a teen learns to be comfortable with beer or wine in the home, his “tolerance” for alcohol is built up. When he goes off to college, he may move to hard alcohol very quickly.
Kids have the rest of their lives to drink alcohol. The wisest thing for parents to do is to simply model healthy drinking patterns and teach kids to have a healthy respect for it.
Hope this helps!