Parental attitudes on teen drinking can backfire

“It’s really fun to get together and party with friends. I like to loosen up by drinking because you don’t feel any pressure to be someone you’re not and it’s easier to interact with friends,” said an anonymous Ames High senior, describing a typical weekend. “Everyone does it, plus we’re always around college kids and it’s normal for them to pass out on the streets and stuff, which makes it seem less bad for us.” For parents who are seeking answers behind these types of thoughts and their children’s drinking, a few psychological aspects should be considered before pointing fingers at the culprit. Denise Denton is a senior lecturer at Iowa State and prevention specialist with a master’s degree in counseling. She explains: “There’s reverse psychology at work. If parents tell kids not to drink and don’t talk about why, curiosity gets the best of them.” Parents who absolutely ban alcohol without explaining why may be tempting their kids even more so than their peers. The forbidden fruit begins to look very sweet to teenagers, as they wonder what is so taboo about it. This often results in binge drinking, which is a lot different from simple social drinking. The other far end, according to Denton, is parents’ abuse of alcohol. “When parents don’t mention anything at all, kids are more likely to drink at parties,” she said. “It’s like giving them silent permission. “The least amount of drinking problems are in families that accept some social drinking. If consequences and values are understood, there is no mystery about drinking and abuse is not a problem,” Denton said. However, a very high population of Ames High students continue to drink, regardless of parents’ outlook. It’s not as if teenagers don’t know the consequences, either. “My parents would be very angry if they knew I drank,” said another anonymous junior. “I keep it moderate, though. They’ve talked to me about how both my grandparents were alcoholics, which makes me more susceptible to it.” Genetics isn’t the only factor that gives teenagers the appetite for alcohol, however. “Risk taking is evolutionary,” Denton said. “To take risks is a good thing, and it’s particularly true for teenagers – it dominates their thinking, which doesn’t grasp well into the future.” Teenagers know that it is illegal for them to consume alcohol and doing so gives them the adrenaline-filled rush of knowing they could be caught at any moment. Since it is uncommon for people this age to die, the thought of invincibility comes innately. “It’s the parents’ job to put kids in a safe situation,” said Denton, suggesting a way to prevent high schoolers from being tempted to drink in the first place. Approaches to resolution can be simple, yet valuable. Alcohol is a harmful drug when abused in large quantities, but it shouldn’t be labeled as forbidden or dangerous, which only onsets experimenting and exploitation. “Don’t hide anything and set parameters,” said Denton, advising parents. A change of legal drinking and driving ages is highly doubtful, because accident rates have dropped significantly since The National Minimum Drinking Age Act of 1984 was passed. “It’s impossible the way our culture is built,” said Denton on rising the driving age in order to prevent drinking and driving. Teens as young as fourteen drive to and from school activities, relaxing parents’ schedules. Public transportation in places like Ames is not very widely utilized, so cars are a necessity. So instead of focusing on ways to punish underage users, it is more practical to search for the root of the problem first. The ultimate goal ought not be to ban and punish, but to examine teens’ point of view and develop ways of prevention accordingly. Exactly why are teenagers drinking? Temptation and impulsiveness are directly correlated with the exposure and approach to alcohol of the ones that influence them most: Mom and Dad.