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Teens and Supervised Drinking -- I Don't Get It

Wisconsin is ranked number 1 in the nation for binge drinking. Allowing alcohol consumption by underage teens -- as some local parents do -- is just plain dumb.

As I draw ever closer to having a high schooler in my home, I find myself talking with parents of high school students and getting more scared every day. 

Recently, I learned of a neighbor who was fined $900 by the police for hosting a party and serving alcohol to high school students! Worse still – she denied them access to her home in hopes of protecting the children she’d served. 

So, why do some parents think supervised underage drinking is acceptable? Is it because they are more interested in being popular than in raising responsible adults? Because let’s be honest, responsible parents don’t encourage and enable their kids to break the law.

I would like to think we parents are united in discouraging our kids from drinking underage. A high school age child is at minimum three years from the legal drinking age. By this logic are we also giving our thirteen year-old the car keys or encouraging our fifteen year old to vote?

Yeah, I don’t get it. 

Worse still – she denied them access to her home in hopes of protecting the children she’d served. 

Wisconsin was recently ranked number one in the nation for binge drinking by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). The 2011 CDC study of more than 400,000 people found that nearly 23 percent of Wisconsin residents of legal age fell into the “binge drinker” category, which was defined as a man consuming five or more drinks and a woman consuming four or more drinks in a day during the previous month. 

I was surprised to make this discovery, and I have to admit, it’s changed
my attitude about my own drinking to learn that I have had occasion to be a
member of this very embarrassing “club."

National Public Radio (NPR) recently covered a study reported in the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs, JSAD Study comparing a “zero-tolerance” approach to underage drinking with “harm minimization” (the theory that using alcohol under supervision prepares youths for making better choices later on).

The study revealed that the harm minimization approach is less effective than a zero tolerance policy wherein consumption is restricted to those of legal age.  Underage children that were exposed and encouraged to try alcohol were found to engage in more excessive drinking practices later on. This report is a wake-up
call for all the parents out there who think they are helping prepare their
kids for college by allowing them to engage in alcohol consumption at
home. 

The truth is, unless you’re coaching them on how to do a beer bong or a keg stand, little of what you do at home will resemble their college experience anyway. 

I know I was put on this earth to be my children’s parent, not their friend – and I have no desire to be their drinking buddy.

So, what’s a parent to do? I wish I knew for sure.

What I do know is that my first allegiance is to my children’s safety.  And hopefully, the threat of losing the freedom they love will incent them to make good decisions as they navigate their teen years. But if they don’t, I promise not to shield them from the consequences of their behavior. I know I was put on this earth to be my children’s parent, not their friend – and I have no desire to be their drinking buddy.

And for the parent who insists on offering their underage children
alcohol – don’t presume it’s okay to encourage my child to engage in illegal
acts. And for Heaven’s sake, don’t be surprised when your kid decides they are above other laws like speed limits and shoplifting… because haven’t you shown them that you get to decide which laws to abide and which to break? 

The bottom line is whether you agree with it or not, the 21-year-old legal drinking age is the law of the land, and we are all obliged to uphold it. 



This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Sofia Reino March 21, 2012 at 03:22 PM
Here is another point I do not get and would love someone to help me: you can drive in most States at age 16 (some even younger) you can go to war at 18 you can choose your next representatives and president at 18 YET you can ONLY legally drink at 21?
Denise Lockwood March 21, 2012 at 03:25 PM
thus the reason why my daughter has never seen me drunk... ;)
Randy1949 March 21, 2012 at 03:54 PM
@Denise -- Actually, seeing a parent embarrassingly drunk makes most teens want the opposite. What I don't understand is why parents focus on forbidding the wrong things. Drinking is bad, m'kay? So don't do it until you're 21, m'kay? And then it's legal and okay, m'kay? Rather than focusing on drinking as the evil, tell your kids about the physical toll of heavy alcohol use, especially at a young age. Talk about the humiliation of throwing up at a party and doing goodness knows what. Tell them how drinking shots in rapid succession could actually kill them. Tell them about the stupidity of doing any hazardous activity (especially driving) while compromised. However, 'physically and mentally compromised' should mean the effects of alcohol, drugs both illegal and prescription, sever fatigue, and illness.
Denise Lockwood March 21, 2012 at 04:05 PM
@Randy... I've totally had that conversation with her too. And she unfortunately knows about the feeling of being embarrassingly drunk first hand since she got an underage drinking ticket last year.
Randy1949 March 21, 2012 at 04:10 PM
@Sofia Reino -- The short answer is MADD. The longer answer is American hypocrisy on the subject, plus a return to Puritanism.in our social values. There was a time when the American age of majority was dropped to the age of 18 (down from 21) for all things -- drinking, voting, signing contracts. -- on principle that if you're old enough for the burdens of citizenship (notable fighting in the military) then you're old enough for the privileges and rights. Then, predictably, there was a rise in alcohol-related auto accidents for 18 year-olds and the age went up to 19; then further back to 21 under pressure from groups like MADD at the federal level. (I would suspect there is a corresponding increase in alcohol related crashes for the 1 year-olds, because that will happen with any 'new' group.) Why can we drive at 16 (and furthermore be tried as adults at an even younger age)? Pragmatism. American parents are tired of chauffeuring their kids everywhere by the age of 16. A 16 year-old's physical reflexes are good enough to handle an automobile, although I'm not so sure about the mental judgement in all cases. As far as I'm concerned, in our attempt to make things safe, we've sent a lamentable message, telling a group of young people we don't trust them to obey the laws already in place. So in some jurisdictions, a 14 year-old can be held accountable for a capital crime and even executed, but an 18 year-old can't buy a six-pack of beer and drink it at home.
mau March 21, 2012 at 05:14 PM
I believe our teenagers have actually become worse drivers, being coddled, than when we had more responsibility. They now have graduated licenses, tougher drunk driving laws, a higher drinking age, lower speed limits, supposed safer cars....... There are more horrific accidents with multiple teenagers onboard, drunk driving and speeding.
mau March 21, 2012 at 05:17 PM
@Sofia, the biggest has always been and will always be, peer pressure. And now we have all this music, television, movies, giving them ideas and encouraging more bad behavior. These influences have always been there but now we are being bombarded with it from all angles, all the time.
mau March 21, 2012 at 05:24 PM
How are we leading by example when we encourage drunk fests like St. Patrick's Day, State Fair, Summerfest or ball games. I know a lot of adults who can not attend any event without downing a few beers.
Randy1949 March 21, 2012 at 05:31 PM
We're leading by example if we attend those festivities and stop at one or two. The idea is not to piously pretend that we don't drink at all, because that just teaches kids to sneak. American society already tried zero tolerance with the Volstead Act, with disastrous results. I'm slightly worried that today's generation has forgotten that lesson.
Rachel Holley Sciortino March 21, 2012 at 06:28 PM
Actaully in the 80s drunk driving deaths were over 50,000 per year in this country and now (according to MADD's site) they are just over 10,000 -- lots of contributing factors (seat beslts, enforcement, societal changes), I'm sure, but awareness is one of them and MADD/SADD and the like have done a lot to raise awareness...and that's a good thing in my opinion.
aaaaaa March 21, 2012 at 06:38 PM
How is Vermont getting around this?
CowDung March 21, 2012 at 06:39 PM
Do they have any stats on drunk driving arrests/citations in the 80s as compared to now?
aaaaaa March 21, 2012 at 06:42 PM
Mau - I disagree that a big part is peer pressure - twenty year olds drink for the same reasons other adults drink: It's social, it tastes good, it relaxes you, it takes away some inhibitions if you are shy..... I was never pressured into drinking - I drank for the above reasons.
aaaaaa March 21, 2012 at 06:43 PM
You are SO right!
aaaaaa March 21, 2012 at 06:50 PM
check out Vermont senate bill SR 17 - requesting federal waiver of the drinking age. They have acknowedged that the current age of 21 contributes to binge drinking.
mau March 21, 2012 at 07:02 PM
I no longer get pressured because I refuse to drink and drive. All the reasons to justify drinking are signs of alcoholism. As far as relaxing and holding a conversation, I can do that just as well or better having a soda or ice water. I never drank because it tastes good.
mau March 21, 2012 at 07:04 PM
I actually have more new and healthier brains cells because all that alcohol I ingested in my youth, killed off all the old ones :)
Sofia Reino March 21, 2012 at 07:30 PM
@mau: I do understand about pressure and also the stuff they are exposed on TV which drives me nuts. Here we are a culture which generally speaking is pretty puritan, yet you watch Disney channel and you are teaching kids, especially girls (tweens) to dress as whores and in general that they can talk to adults with no respect. And again I can see pressure with alcohol especially in college, but then again, IF kids would have learned how to drink socially at home, would that still be a problem? I have 3 nieces in Spain (16 and 18 years of age) the latter in college and they do not go through any of this.
mau March 21, 2012 at 07:31 PM
When my son was in Gifford Elementary School, I had the opportunity to go to a DARE program where they displayed all the drugs and other information. Officer Joe Muniz and other officers were there to answer any questions. I asked Office Muniz what a parent can do to keep their child away from drugs. He said that the biggest problem with kids and drugs is peer pressure. Keep your child busy and not let them have idle time. He also said a parent should have control of who their child interacts with.
Sofia Reino March 21, 2012 at 07:36 PM
@Randy1949: I think you are so very right in all of your comments. I am noticing all that as my teen is growing, hearing her friends etc. Also another thing I am noticing is that in general we are bringing up kids that are simply not responsible in any way. We give them everything and if or when they leave the nest they are clueless as how to live life. I let my older one fall and learn from her mistakes. Sure she hates me at the time, but then realizes she is learning and I prefer her to learn now while still young than once on her own with tougher consequences. I actually like the idea of kids driving young, BUT with adult supervision for the first 2 years. True that we live in a part of the country where there is no public transportation so owning a car at such young age (in a way) makes sense. I have my first car at 30!
J. B. Schmidt March 21, 2012 at 07:39 PM
If I am echoing anyone's post, i apologize. We as a culture have not set clear lines for acceptable behavior. We have set zero tolerance for drugs and alcohol; while leave sex acceptable and should be practiced with caution as long as you don't get caught. We preach to our children one way of living and they turn on MTV and see the opposite behavior. Jersey Shore is built on the party lifestyle; the FUN, sexy party lifestyle. Almost every mainstream program after 7pm offers its most positive spin on actions we as parents would not let our children part take in. Even video games promote lifestyles not normally allowed by parents. Imagine my horror when I watched a video game preview, with my child, on Youtube where the main character pulls a 36" dildo out of his jacket and begins beating people with it. I told him it was a 'night stick'; therefore, it couldn't technically be called a lie. The most well mannered well adjusted teens/young adults are those that had parents involved in every aspect of their life. Monitor what they text, facebook or email. Know their friends and friends parents. It sounds untrusting; however, you need to correct issues as they occur. If you have never questioned your high school students behavior until they get an underage drinking ticket or come home drunk or high; it is probably to late and the course correction will be much more painful for everyone involved. If you are involved, you will know when they start to stray.
Randy1949 March 21, 2012 at 07:53 PM
@J.B. Schmidt -- I grew up with zero-tolerance for pre-marital sex too, and it didn't work at all. I really think it's the all or nothing approach that leads us into trouble. I gave my son pretty much the same advice about sex as I did for drinking. Go ahead and have sex -- with yourself or someone else -- when you feel ready, BUT never hurt anyone while you do it. No babies you're not ready for. No spreading of disease. No telling someone you love them when you don't. No breaking of hearts. That's the same rules for sex within marriage, when you come to think about it. There's nothing wrong with sex or drinking per se. It's how and when they're done. We as a culture haven't set the lines for acceptable behavior because we don't all agree on them ourselves. The important thing for parents and children is not to be hypocritical -- if you set a limit for your child, you had best observe it yourself.
Sofia Reino March 21, 2012 at 07:57 PM
@Randy1949: AMEN!
Lyle Ruble March 21, 2012 at 08:07 PM
@Sofia Reino....It is a fact that we are allowing our children to be exposed to any number of unhealthy influences, but in many ways we are promoting them. I'll be honest that I too have committed sins of over indulgence. However, I learned quickly that it doesn't do children any good to have unrealistic life expectations. My first born had advantages that I knew better than to give the following three. I look at the issue of cell phones as an indulgence that kids are given at a younger and younger age. TVs and computers in bedrooms also are bad ideas. The list could go on and on. I am a believer of giving kids what they need and withholding that which they don't need. I am fortunate to live in Shorewood where we have excellent public transportation. From an early age my children walked, rode their bicycles or road the bus. If my kids wanted to learn to drive, they got out, found a job and paid for their own drivers education, along with their insurance. I have never bought any of them a car and if they needed to use a car they drove the family car. the two youngest started working while still in high school and have continued right through university and graduate school. They are paying for their educations and such know the value of that education. As you say we Americans are hypocritical; puritanical to a fault on the one had and materially over indulgent on the other. Not only don't we keep our expectations reasonable but also confusing.
Sofia Reino March 21, 2012 at 08:24 PM
@Lyle Ruble: That is fantastic what you have done with your kids. And totally get about the eldest and the others. I am noticing I am more careful with the younger one. Indeed my oldest got a cell at age 11, mainly cause I was working and I wanted to be able to contact her on her way home from school, but still today she knows it is a privilege, that can removed if she does not follow certain rules and it is a pretty plain cell (no internet access, etc) as she does not need that. You are lucky to live in a place where there are public transportation. Here in Sussex apart from walking around the Village if you want to go elsewhere you need a car. I am lucky to go once a year to NYC and another to Europe so my daughters are exposed to learning how to be street smart, seeing other cultures and knowing what is appropriate in one culture may not in another. For example last year we were in madrid, Spain and my daughter then 13, could not believe how all of the kids were up till way late (4am or later), drinking, SOME smoking, but there were parents, kids, etc and no problems whatsoever happened. She participated in all of the parties, slept everyday until midday, but also learned so much about there is no need for problems if there is moderation.
David Tatarowicz March 21, 2012 at 08:57 PM
@235301 It is dumb laws like the mariquana ones that make people (and kids) somewhat cynical about all laws. I believe there are about twenty states now that have the so called medicinal mariquana --- and up until 1915 of course, it was totally legal, as were all drugs, and there is good evidence that most of our country's founders used it, as most every farmer and farm kid did. When something so benign is banned as a hard core drug --- and studies have shown it is less harmful than alcohol overall, and not addicting as alcohol is --- then it brings into questions all of our drug laws. If you think beating your kid would make them change, you would probably be surprised that it would have just the opposite affect -- aside from putting into jail for domestic abuse.
Lyle Ruble March 21, 2012 at 09:13 PM
@Sofia Reino...I am jealous of your trips to Madrid. I lived on the Costa del Sol for about six months and traveled all throughout Spain and Portugal. As a young man I hitch hiked, used the trains and buses. Of course it was the 1960s and I could live on less than a dollar a day. The last time we traveled to Northern Europe my son was 16 and my daughter 12. He had a very good time as he had plenty of opportunities to party in Denmark, Sweden and Germany. In fact, I had the honor of taking him into the "red light" district of Hamburg for a walk around. He made great friends and is planning on going back over as soon as he is finished with graduate school. My daughter enjoyed herself also, but she was a bit young to fully experience the whole European experience. Both of them have learned how to get around on the rail system and what hostels are all about. Since I am retired I don't have the opportunity to get over there as much as I used to. I had the opportunity to experience the Mediterranean by living in Spain, Italy, Sicily and Greece. I wished everyone could do that, there would be a great deal more tolerance.
mau March 22, 2012 at 12:51 AM
@J.B., I was one of those parents that you are describing. There was almost nothing, that my son did, that I didn't find out about. If it wasn't anything that would hurt him or someone else, I usually let it go to see how far it went. I knew if I said anything he would know I was tracking him and he would make every effort to hide it. He always had jobs so didn't have a lot of spare time to get in trouble. Never any trouble with drugs or drinking. He did have a lead foot. I did end up closing his Myspace and Yahoo email accounts after finding some disturbing information. He did not know I did it as I dealt with the companies to do it. To this day he does not know everything I know that he was doing. One warning that I was adamant about, if you get a girl in trouble you will be responsible. You will not shirk your responsibility. He went through a rough spot after high school. Got tangled up with a very wild girl. I talked to him about it all the time. And I know there were times he detested me for it. Luckily he lived through that time and came out of it very well.
Johnny Paycheck March 23, 2012 at 05:46 AM
This is why American freedom is gone like smoke in the wind... The country is now full of judgmental narrow minded people trying to force their own version of morality on everybody else. Don't be surprised when it comes back to bite you where it hurts.
Dirk Gutzmiller March 23, 2012 at 07:26 PM
Underage drinkers in Wisconsin fleeing from unsupervised drinking parties should now be educated about the Castle Doctrine as well as DUI laws. At least we are not in Florida.. You do not need to even go on a patio, porch, or deck to get a hole blown in your chest. You can even be sober.

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