Friday, August 18, 2006

Kindergarten and Underage Drinking

About 30 minutes ago, I dropped Bella off for her first day of school. Not accustomed to needing to be at the school for the first bell (which is when the kindergarten students go into the classroom), I was, of course, late. Tavia had a shoe crisis at the last moment, and although the kids had been up since the butt crack of dawn, we still managed to be in "rush" mode once we hit school grounds.

Anyway, Bella never had time to stand in line with the other munchkins. Instead, I walked her to her classroom door, hugged and kissed her, and sent her on her way into the warm smiles of her very courageous teacher. No time for tears. And I walked home, I couldn't help but think that here we pass another milestone. I will never have another first day of kindergarten as a parent.

And as I experienced that bittersweet feeling a parent experiences over cutting another notch in the apron strings, I thought about Max, who is a 13-year-old freshman this year. His initial reaction to high school is that it is a vortex of evil, but he'll manage. I, on the other hand, felt the sting of parental angst recently, and I'm not sure I'll manage at all.

My family attended a party last weekend, and to my shock and amazement, the 14-year-old son of the host family was allowed to drink alcohol. His mom explained her philosophy: If he is served at home, he won't sneak and hide it, like she did at his age. At home, his underage drinking can be supervised. Holy crap-ola. I could not believe my ears.

We left the party shortly after this discovery; I simply could not wrap my brain around the idea that this kid was served alcohol by his parents. Disappointment and fear threw me in a tailspin. But mostly, I was just really sad. There's no other word for it. Earlier in the evening, the mom was voicing her concern over the lyrics of some heavy metal music her son listens to; within hours, she was trying to legitimize giving beer to a kid, a concept I can't make sense of no matter how I look at it. Truly, I spent the rest of that weekend in a funk, reassessing my values and beliefs in an effort to determine if I had become a constipated prude. Am I so out of touch with reality that I'm making a big thing out of nothing?

No. I came to the conclusion that it is not out of touch or prudish to abstain from serving a 14-year-old alcohol. What is unrealistic is to encourage destructive behavior by giving it approval and then expecting that such allowance on the part of a parent will curtail more of the same behavior. I find it appalling that any parent would willingly start his child down a path that is not healthy either physically or mentally. This is a kid we're talking about, not a young adult. A kid. Someone not even 6,000 days old.

I know...we all parent as we see fit. And I know the kids in this family are very loved. I simply can't follow the logic of allowing a kid to drink as a solution to a problem that might never occur. To everything a time, right? Well, the time to drink is not as a kid. The brain is still developing. Impulse control is at a lifetime low. There are all sorts of things physiologically going on in a teen's body that should not be influenced by alcohol. Given the loopy logic of the argument, how would a parent handle teen sex? Escort the young couple to a candlelit bedroom, with John Coltrane playing softly in the background, rose petals strewn about the bed? Come on. Some activities should not be pursued by hormonal kids...boozing it up and sex are two of them, at least where 14-year-olds are concerned.

I know teen alcohol and drug abuse are serious issues facing families today. That's nothing new. But encouraging your kid to take part in harmful activities in an effort to keep him from hiding such behavior is just, well, lacking. In everything. By the same token, being too strict or overprotective...fear-based parenting...that doesn't work either. Isn't there a middle ground here? Tell our kids we expect them to obey the law, but if they should choose to make a poor choice, avoid further trouble by calling home and extricating themselves from the situation. The night of the party in mention, I had given Max permission to spend the night. After learning that his friend was drinking, I changed my mind. Once home, I explained to Max that while I trust him, I also know that when a group of kids gathers and there is drinking involved, really stupid ideas can start to seem glorious, and it's easy to get caught up in the moment. Thankfully, Max assured me he understood, and told me he thinks drinking is about the stupidest thing a kid can do. (I hope he can hold on to that belief, but if not, I hope I react out of love and the memories of being a teenager.)

As a parent whose job it is to love and guide him, there's no way I'm going to put him in the situation of having to choose between doing something I think is wrong (and illegal) and harmful, or having to resist and be the odd man out. He'll find himself in situations like that his whole life; do I need to push him into one at the age of thirteen? I don't think so. And though Max is comfortable with who he is more than most kids his age, I just can't see the point of placing him in a precarious situation if I don't have to.

I'd be interested in hearing from others who've had experience with similar situations. How did you approach it? And those of you who have raised your kids...did you ever have to deal with this sort of thing? What works? What doesn't?


Judith K. Witherow said...

I've heard the same stupid explanations from other parents, and I never changed the way I wanted my three boys to behave.
There were two incidents involving them drinking. One was the middle son, Stacey, getting tanked with another boy on the way to school in the seventh grade. The school phoned me and said to come and get him that he was sick and throwing up. (I thought he had the flu.) When they called to tell me that he was suspended I about went through the phone. Judith--"Suspended? For having the flu? Are you serious?" A moment of silence, then "No, for being drunk." All afternoon he was being fed soup and drinking tea. Not a word about drinking was ever said. More to the story, but it ended with a month worth of house arrest. They all knew if they argued with me about punishment, that I thought fit the deed,it would be doubled. I wanted them to know I didn't take anything lightly that could cause them harm.
The oldest son, Steve, got drunk when he was a senior, and allowed a friend to drive our car. This boy did not have a driver's license. It could have cost us more than we care to think about--including the loss of his life. It's against the law to give your children alcohol, and you are also giving them permission to perhaps start a lifetime of addiction.
Sue said her parent's thought the same way about her drinking at home, and when she left she continued drinking and doing drugs. So, you have different opinions.
I come from a dysfunctional family, and there was no way I wanted to encourage drinking or anything else that might ruin their life before it got started. Today they are great guys that make us proud.
Thanks for writing this column. I hope a lot of parents pay attention to what you wrote, and think seriously about the consequences. Judith

Anonymous said...

Sooo, were the parents of this child part of the WAIT movement?!?!