Parents have been arrested for throwing their children a booze infused party. Perhaps I’m being a bit incendiary with the phrase; “throwing their children a (party)” However, I suspect that teenagers and their tons of friends did not buy the alcohol themselves, and certainly not with their own money. The justification that these gated community Queens parents make is the standard: “I’d rather they did it at home.”
Can we just tease that apart a bit? It’s sounds so wholesome on the surface, doesn’t it? “Baking: I’d rather they did it at home.” It suggests supervision and perhaps even an informal tutorial. Nobody is hosting wine tasting parties for their teens (to my knowledge.) These kids are drinking to get drunk. That is the goal. Drinking as a social behavior takes a level of sophistication and social ease that teenagers rarely possess. They drink to get drunk, they use prescription drugs to get high or stoned, they use street drugs (and freaking aerosol cans!) for the same reason. Would these same parents host a few dozen teenagers and pass out methamphetamine? It happens (usually not in gated communities) and (with any luck) those children go into protective care.
I’m all for parents teaching children how to be fully functioning adults. If they feel that teaching their child to drink responsibly is part of that, so be it. But hosting your kid’s friend’s booze bash is not about that. It’s about wanting to feel cool. Children from this gated community are going to the hospital for alcohol poisoning (delivered by parents to avoid detection.) Do you know how much alcohol needs to be ingested to result in poisoning?! Banish all thoughts of Liesl having her first sip of champagne at the ball. You’ve got to power drink serious alcohol (or be a toddler) to be poisoned.
They’d rather they did it at home. What does that mean? One parent suggested that he’d rather his kid was drinking at home than at the beach. Why’s that? Is drowning a concern? What about the dozens of teenagers getting drunk in your house? Are they all sleeping it off in your bonus room? How do you feel about your cherub getting drunk at their friend’s house? Is that okay? I’m guessing not. I’m guessing you want the party at your house. You know what would make you even cooler in a 16 year old’s eyes? Invite tattoo artists to the next bash.
Let’s put aside class discrepancies (people of means don’t usually lose custody of their children for indiscretions) and even issues of physical danger for a moment. Instead let’s focus on what this behavior actually teaches children. 1) The rules don’t apply to you 2) It’s not breaking the law if you don’t get caught 3) Behaving irresponsibly is not only a natural part of adolescence it’s a healthy part of middle-age.
Kids do stupid things. It’s their job. It’s only by going too far that they find their own limits and comfort levels. The best protection you can offer a child is a strong sense of self. A teenager who feels he/she has worth is less prone to trying to prove it in questionable ways. The same could be said for parents.
May 9, 2012 at 11:40 am
Went through this about 25 years ago, with stepsons in a village (in Westchester) where a number of parents did host parties for teens – especially HS graduates – with beer. And the boys once wanted to throw a party with a keg – one was “of age’ – the other 16 – when I said no way, the older one actually offered his idea of a compromise – “you don’t have to be there.” Years later, he told me about an illegal underage “bar” in someone’s home in that same village — and still refused to tell me who had it – as he said ” You would just go right over there now!” ( Yup!) The problem – aside from my circumstances as a stepmother, the natural bad guy – is that when there is a culture – local, national – that accepts – even promotes, or glamorizes – drinking, it can be extremely difficult to influence your kids to be the strong tough hold-outs. I won’t go into all that happened – but one of the boys developed a serious problem, related, I am sure, to family issues, to a no-holds-barred risk-taking personality, and to the way substances create their own ongoing cravings – worse for those who may be vulnerable genetically. Use is partly about self medication and escape, but also about experimentation – what does this feel like?. I think the healthiest personalities may be those who do some experimentation but not too much; who have curiosity but not compulsion ..but who knows why one has better instincts for self-preservation than another?
Having seen a lot of alcohol induced major tragedies – and no marijuana ones – and not being a teetotaler – i would like to see easing – legalizing – of pot. They both pose issues, but why allow adult use of one and criminalize the other? And why waste money on the War on Drugs which simply creates a profitable black market which undercuts civilized society?
I still wouldn’t want younger people to to be using it ( or alcohol.or other psychotropic substances) It may damage crucial brain development; it definitely interferes with the ability to face the challenges of young adulthood. Families who have children imbibe at home as a part of a special celebration – or family dinners – might be doing a good thing – but this doesn’t include events where ADULTS model getting high/drunk. I know a person who tended bar for his family’s parties — at 13 – and at 55 he is a permanently damaged alcoholic who created havoc for his own children ( which sort of connects to that article about parental depression as well as to teen drinking).
May 9, 2012 at 11:59 am
Thank you so much for sharing such insights and personal stories. I only wish there we didn’t all have so many of these stories. I was a pretty ‘middle of the road’ kid when it came to experimentation and I shudder to think what would have happened if my parents had enabled my mild indiscretions. As it was my job (as an adolescent) to rebel, how high would I have had to dial it up?
I agree on your take on the genesis of much substance abuse. I also believe that mild experimentation is not the gateway to anything but knowing one’s limits. But engaging in any behavior to distract from how one feels is a dangerously slippery slope.
I find the whole issue of (some) drugs being illegal simply mind boggling. Clearly there are entities profiting from this situation. I’ve yet to hear of anyone dying or becoming violent from smoking pot. True, it’s not terribly good for your lungs, but I don’t think it does the liver damage alcohol does (although I’m not entirely sure.)
May 8, 2012 at 11:39 am
Excellent article, I remember my parents providing beer for a party my brother had in high school, back then the drinking age was 18; their rationale was exactly what you said, ‘better they do it at home’
I am curious, what are your thoughts on the legalization of marijuana that so many conservatives are talking about now? Legalizing it completely, not just for medical use.
May 8, 2012 at 11:53 am
It’s funny you ask about marijuana. While writing about drinking (to the point of drunkenness) I kept thinking about pot. The college I attended (like a LOT of colleges) has a day of debauchery in the spring. The administration has wrestled with walking the fine line between not exactly condoning under-age drinking, but not infringing on the student’s “day of fun.” They tend to start drinking first thing in the morning and go as long as they can. I’ve often thought of how less dangerous it would be if they just got stoned. a) there’s no such thing as pot poisoning and b) one tends not to become violent and belligerent when stoned.
I’ve never understood why drugs are illegal. The best I can figure is that too many people are benefiting from them not being regulated.
May 8, 2012 at 12:03 pm
A lot of conservatives, like George Will, have been writing about legalizing drugs because they say ‘The War on Drugs’ started in the 70s was a failure and that a high percentage of the prison population is for drug possession. Its an interesting theory, saying that police could stop wasting time on people smoking pot or other drugs, the prison population would be reduced drastically, the black market of drugs would be brought out in the open, lots of tax revenue would be collected, prison and police costs would be reduced. But no one in government has the backbone to bring it up. But, if pot was more available would there be an equal number of alcoholics and pot-aholics? I hope this isn’t distracting from the premise of your posting, was just curious about your views.
May 8, 2012 at 12:17 pm
I tend to think that pot use wouldn’t really increase. (It’s not like prohibition slowed down alcohol consumption!) I have a hard time believing that there are people sitting around thinking; “Boy, could I go for some pot right about now. Too bad it’s illegal.” I do think that people who tend to abuse marijuana are self-medicating. It’s really not all that different from people who self-treat with alcohol.
May 8, 2012 at 1:18 pm
I find it all so interesting, what makes people want to escape where others are ok with out it. Same for motivation, why do some have it some don’t. Very interesting topic you brought up!
May 8, 2012 at 8:41 am
I couldn’t agree more. I also find the “drinking to get drunk” phenomenon a scary one. I remember alcohol being at almost every high school party and I don’t remember ever seeing someone drunk. If anything, it was a matter of pride that one didn’t embarrass oneself.
I don’t think it was just increasing the drinking age that created the “drinking as naughty” behavior. I think it might have only given it a jump start.
I worry about teens and young adults at college who consider “getting wasted” an actual goal. For some, weekends are just a blurry haze. Young women (and men) find themselves in very regrettable (and dangerous) situations, far from the watchful (enabling) eyes of their parents.
May 8, 2012 at 8:34 am
‘I’d rather they do it at home than on the beach’ – as if those are the only two options. So much of the alcohol “education” that we give kids focuses only on protecting them from doing stupid/dangerous things while under the influence: don’t drink and drive, stick with a friend to avoid acquaintance rape situations, stay away from the beach, the pool, the roof. I don’t think kids are adequately informed that alcohol can kill you all by itself if you drink enough of it.