We are very open with our kids about alcohol.
We explained to them that I have an allergy to alcohol; at their ages this is the best way to explain a concept as complicated as alcoholism. Greta has asked if she has an allergy to alcohol, too, and we told her that we can't know yet, but that alcohol allergies are hereditary, and she will have to be more careful than most about drinking.
We also explained that drinking at a young age increases her chances that she will have a problem with alcohol later in life. A recent study indicates that people who reported starting to drink before the age of 15 were four times more likely to also report meeting the criteria for alcohol dependence at some point in their lives.
Her response was to say "Well, then, I'm never going to drink alcohol. If someone asks me I'm going to say NO THANK YOU!"
If only it were that simple.
The statistics about teenage drinking are hair-raising. 72% of teenagers in the US admit to using alcohol at least once, and 2 out of 5 teenagers say they drank alcohol within the last month. Studies also show that when teenagers drink, they tend to binge drink - consuming 4 or more drinks at a time.
As parents, we all want to believe our teenager would be one of the 28% of teens who don't try alcohol. We do our best to teach our children to make smart choices, we advise them of the dangers of drinking. We consider good grades or a stellar athletic track record as indicators that our kid couldn't possibly be drinking. But the statistics are frightening, and even if our own kids are trying to make smart choices, chances are they have friends who aren't.
We all remember the power of peer pressure, of wanting desperately to fit in. Smart choices have a way of fading into the background in the face of peer pressure.
I can see it in my mind's eye - Greta and some teenage friends hanging out in a parking lot after a movie, or having an innocent get together at a friend's house. Suddenly a bottle appears from someone's pocket, and gets passed around. When the bottle lands in her hands, I would love to believe that all our education and open communication would lead her to say 'No thank you,' like her 9 year old brain believes she would. I would also like to believe she would remember the dangers - elevated for her - and pass the bottle along without taking a sip. I know she would want to make the right choice, but would she?
I remember my first sip of alcohol, how it calmed my nerves, made me feel whole, comfortable in my own skin. For someone who struggled with anxiety her whole life, alcohol was like a magic elixir. Greta has anxiety, too, particularly in social situations, and my gut churns to think about how her resolve not to drink may fall to pieces when she feels alcohol's magic effects.
I also know I am powerless over what happens, to a large degree. I can educate, encourage her to communicate with us about drinking, spell out the consequences from drinking in startling clarity. But how can I put more power into her hands to make the right choice, to help her fend off peer pressure?
It's a fine line between trust and facing a stark reality: most teens drink.
Technology, of course, is coming up with new devices to address the growing problem of teenage drinking. Sober Link is such a device; a wireless blood alcohol level monitor that a teen can blow into from anywhere, and it wirelessly and immediately provides parents with their child's blood alcohol level and location. My immediate reaction upon hearing about this was at a visceral level: I trust my child, she will make smart choices. I won't need something like that. But then I watched the video below, and thought about it some more:
I thought about the scenario in the parking lot, of the bottle being passed around. If Greta wanted to make a smart choice, but felt pressured to drink, having this device in her pocket would give her an out, would empower her to say she can't drink.
It feels draconian, on some level, but it doesn't have to be. I do trust my children, and I wouldn't give her a device like this one because I don't trust her, I would give it to her to empower her to make the right choice, if she wanted to.
At nine years old, Greta is eager to listen and receptive to our advice. I hope she stays this way through the difficult teen years, but I hear stories of how communication changes - and not for the better - when kids hit their teenage (and even pre-teen years). I recognize that I can't stop her from drinking, if she's determined to try. Kids make mistakes, they make wrong choices, and oftentimes we learn more from our mistakes than from our successes. But the stakes are so high with teenage drinking; one wrong choice can have disastrous consequences.
What do you think? Would you give your teenager a device like this? If you wouldn't, why not? How do you talk to your kids about drinking, and at what age do you/did you start?
Full disclosure: this is a sponsored post. I get a lot of requests for sponsored posts, but decline them because they aren't topically relevant to my blog, or of interest to my readers. I am fascinated by how technology can help (or hurt) teenage drinking, so I jumped at the opportunity to talk about this more.