Knowing what age to broach the topic of alcohol, what age to indulge the buying of alcohol and the best way to develop healthy drinking habits are just some of the messy, murky waters parents of teenagers wade through.
After all, we live in a heavily concentrated binge drinking culture. As today’s kids find themselves enveloped by it, parents are scrambling to keep up and curb excessive drinking in their young teenagers.
So, what’s one to do?
According to the Director and Principal Psychologist of Reflection Psychology, Gary Rubin, there are several ways parents can encourage their kids to have a positive relationship with alcohol, without breathing down the necks.
According to Rubin, pre-education needs to start early, and kids should be familiar with alcohol before having their first exposure socially.
“If there’s non-avoidance, and the teen is going to be exposed to alcohol, the best option for everyone is for the kid to be exposed to it in the safest environment possible. Sit with them so they can learn to understand how their body responds to it,” he says.
Although Rubin acknowledges that the way teenagers are exposed to alcohol is vastly different to “quietly sitting around at a family BBQ”, he says, psychologically, drinking is less of an act or rebellion if it’s first introduced safely.
Focus on binge drinking, not no drinking
Rubin believes it’s important that parents focus their conversations on binge drinking, not just drinking. The focus, he says, it too often on the “not drinking”, not on the act of binge drinking.
Citing the optimal stimulation theory, where we all have an optimal level of stimulation we must reach to be focused, Rubin says in today’s digital realm, kids are increasingly bored which “feeds an existing drinking culture”.
“If a kid’s first exposure to alcohol is having five or six drinks, that become’s the precedent. Often, research tells us kid are going to do it anyway, so being able to sit with them and not make alcohol the enemy is important. Misuse is the issue here, not the drinking.”
Yes, you can give them a drink at dinner
Many parents are looking for answers that are black and white. Do I give them a drink with dinner? Does that help their relationship with alcohol?
According to Rubin, yes, you can give them that drink with dinner to start a conversation. However, there’s no hard and fast age when it’s the ‘right’ time. Instead, wait for them to raise it before you bring it up.