Before I start this article, a word of caution, and a request. What you’ll read below may be disturbing or shocking. I am already expecting to get at least a little hate mail over it. But it was written drawing upon the life experiences of myself, and my siblings. I’m not saying that what I’m about to write is 100% effective in every case, but I am saying that it’s a far sight better than what’s been tried up till now. Overall, I urge you to read this article with an open mind, but research for yourself, and draw your own conclusions.
It’s fairly obvious that alcohol abuse among minors (under the age of 21) is a problem. Is it a rising problem? Hardly! Keep in mind that before Prohibition, there was no minimum drinking age. The numbers back then were just as high as they are now. But, like I said, it’s still a problem.
And there’s a very simple solution, that will take a hell of a lot of effort.
The problem itself is easy to diagnose. Minors drink because they see adults drink. One thing you absolutely must remember is that your kids will always try to emulate what you do. And by natural extension, they will try to emulate what they see other adults do. That’s just the way it is. The way it has always been, and the way it always will be. It’s hardwired into the human brain.
So am I saying you should stop drinking, and forbid your children from ever watching television and movies, never read books or magazines, or even look at other people? Not at all, that’s just plain stupid (and I know people who try to raise their kids that way. It always ends in disaster).
No, the solution is far simpler, and like I said above, will take a hell of a lot more effort.
Teach your kids about alcohol, PROPERLY.
Note the last word in that sentence. I made it bold for a reason. I am NOT saying to slap a heavy-duty lock on the liquor cabinet and start telling them “Alcohol is bad! [Deity of your choice] will kill you if you ever drink alcohol!” That is teaching them nothing, and actually making matters worse. Think back to your own first exposure to alcohol. I can almost guarantee that you snuck a drink for the thrill of doing something “forbidden” or “taboo.” And trying to scare your kids into not drinking will do that exact same thing.
No, like I said, teach them properly.
Start at an early age with your children. If your liquor cabinet has a lock on it, leave it unlocked. Stop hiding your alcohol in the closet, in drawers, or in your safe. Let your children see that alcohol is an every day part of life, and in moderate amounts can be quite enjoyable.
I am NOT saying to pour the kids a beer or glass of wine, or a few shots. I’m saying to dispell the whole myth of alcohol as an “adult only” thing. If it isn’t considered taboo, it becomes pedestrian and everyday, and thus not a big deal.
So where’s my evidence to back this up? My own personal experience. I came from a very large and tight-knit family. As long-time listeners of my show know, I was raised by my grandparents. They also raised all my cousins (moderate wealth, plus a love of family and plenty of free time).
All told, during my formative years (age 4 to 17), my grandparents raised a total of 43 kids. And during those years, alcohol was a daily occurance.
Did we sneak sips from the bottles of Scotch in Grandfather’s den? No. Did we pour a small taste from the bottles of gin in the liquor cabinet and refill the bottles with water? No. Did we steal bottles of wine from the rack in the cellar? No. Did we go out with our friends to some out-of-the-way place and drink beer we’d bribed an adult to buy for us? Not a single one of us did.
The routine my grandparents used was simple, and went like this:
At dinner (we dressed for dinner, by the way, semi-formal), wine would be served to the adults at the table (by my grandparents’ definition, “adult” meant 16, old enough to hold a job). If a younger child wanted to try wine for the first time, they would be offered a taste, heavily watered-down. If they liked it, they were told that starting with their ninth birthday, they could have watered-down wine with their dinner. And by watered-down, I mean less than 2% alcohol by volume, about 4 proof (less alcohol than a dose of cough syrup).
If a child wanted to try a sip of Grandfather’s scotch, or Grandmother’s gin, again, they would be offered a single sip of overproofed alcohol (usually moonshine), straight, no water. If you choked, made a face, or tried to spit it out, my grandfather (looking quite solemn) would shake his head and say “Nope. You’re not ready yet. You can try again when you feel you’re ready.” If you think back to your first encounter with pure alcohol, you can see this was a very effective tool to discourage underage drinking.
Upon reaching the age of sixteen, not only would you be served wine at the dinner table, but the day after your birthday, you would be called into Grandfather’s den to discuss “adult matters.” Among other things, he would offer us our first real drink.
My grandfather was a fair bartender himself, and could mix almost any drink you could name, and judge the strength that would be appropriate for you at that time.
After that meeting, if you wanted to drink, then you could, freely and openly, with just two iron-clad rules:
One, you would confine your drinking to the house, after notifying BOTH grandparents that you were having a drink, so they could monitor and advise you. They would supply the alcohol, and even teach you how to mix a drink. But they would also be the final determnation on when you’d had enough.
Two, if you were drinking, you wre NOT allowed to touch ANY vehicles. Not any of the family cars, farm tractors, not even a bicycle, until the next day. Didn’t matter if you took 2 sips, or downed 5 martinis. The second you took the first sip, you were home-bound until the next day.
Yes, I know, the legal drinking age is 21. And I’m all for that. As were my grandparents. But they were also in favor of intelligence and education.
Their reasoning was simple, and brilliant. They would rather have their grandchildren (they raised their own children the same way) drink at home in a safe environment rather than out who-knows-where drinking and getting in trouble.
So what was the result of my grandparents method of treating alcohol as an everyday, mundane part of life? Out of 9 children and 43 grandchildren, not a single death from alcohol, and not so much as a DUI citation. We learned to RESPECT alcohol, and accept it for what it is.
Now before you say “But Charlie, you’re drunk all the time!” allow me to point out that yes, I do drink often. BUT, with the exception of a once-a-year blind-drunk event (my birthday), I always respect my limits when it comes to alcohol, and never drink to the point where I am not in control of my faculties. I also don’t drive, especially not after drinking. Of course, I’m one of the lucky few who DOES drink for medical reasons. Without alcohol, I would be on so much pain medication that I wouldn’t be able to sit up, or form complete sentences, let alone run a radio station.
So there’s the solution. In a nutshell, teach you kids from an early age that there’s nothing “mysterious” about alcohol. Teach them that it’s something to be treated with caution and respect.
So where’s the massive effort in this so-simple solution? You have to take responsibility for your children, in order to teach them properly! That’s the part that most people fuck up on. They can barely take rsponsibility for themselves, let alone for someone else.
But that said, I believe in you, and I have faith that you’ll think long and hard on what I’ve written, and do what’s best for you and your’s. As always, I love you.