Dear Dr. Debbie,
We’re planning a party at our home at which alcohol will be served. Some friends will bring children. Our own children are teens and have invited some of their friends. I’m concerned not only about underage drinking, but I also don’t like the idea of adults drinking, and being drunk, in front of the younger children.
My husband does not share my concern. Can you suggest a compromise here?
Adult Child of an Alcoholic
Don’t miss last week’s column Connect with your children this holiday break — Good Parenting
Yours are legitimate concerns. Mixing alcoholic drinks and children is never a good idea. In addition to the harm that can come from drunkenness (poor judgment, offensive language and behavior, impaired driving, violence), even just having the alcohol out can pose a problem. My recommendation would be to not mix a family party with a drinking party, rather have two different parties at separate times. But since you are seeking compromise, here are some suggestions.
Presumably you know your teens well enough to know what to expect of them. Risk seeking and peer pressure can affect even the most level-headed among them. Go over your children’s duties for hosting — assuring all the guests, especially their own friends, have a good time. As the adult hosts, you may want to review legal ramifications.
If they are part of the planning, your teens can help set up refreshments — not the alcohol — and plan for appropriate music, games, etc. for their friends in a designated area. Of course, if a goal of the party is for the generations to mix, there should be thought given to universally appropriate entertainment. Ahead of time, consider whether you will allow any of your children’s friends to spend the night. (This eases end-of-party transportation issues but extends your responsibility for these guests — and the risk of underage drinking — while you are sleeping.)
Who could monitor the drink table to assure that it doesn’t entice the teenagers? And who will monitor to be sure no adults are sneaking drinks to teens? It happens. It may be impossible to limit consumption to one area of the house, so plan your best surveillance strategy. What about inviting parents of your teens’ friends? Hopefully you have cultivated a trusting relationship with enough of these to assure there are other like-minded eyes in the community looking out for all of the kids.
Little Eyes are Watching
Thoughtful planning extends to the youngest guests — who should not be witnessing alcohol consumption. Even the movie business is being challenged to reduce this behavior in entertainment intended for children. The more children witness drinking, research suggests, the more likely they are to abuse alcohol at a young age. Besides assuring their needs for physical comfort and appropriate entertainment, decide how younger children’s supervision will be handled. Many parents, especially those who are full-time parents, crave adult interaction and can be rather neglectful during a mixed age party. This is fine as long as the job of child tending is clearly passed to someone else. After you have adequately child-proofed the party space (or specific spaces) think of one or more adults (or responsible teens) to appoint as child tenders. If it’s a huge party, officially organize this with nametags for the younger children and/or a list of their names and ages from your RSVP’s. Children old enough to be “on their own” also need to be directed to age appropriate activities, with at least minimal checking in by their own or other adults.
Alcohol and Alcoholism
Your husband may hold the argument that a drink isn’t dangerous. This is true. The same as an undetonated grenade holds no threat if no one ever pulls the pin. For that matter, the pin is itself completely harmless. Pulling the pin can, however, be disastrous in many circumstances.
Unfortunately, the misuse of alcohol can also be disastrous. If you had an alcoholic parent, as your signature suggests, there’s a 25 percent chance your own teen has inherited the disease of alcoholism. If it also runs in Dad’s family, that doubles your offspring’s chances. According to extensive research, genetics account for at least half of the risk of developing the disease. The other half is attributed to culture and accessibility to alcohol.
Children are so impressionable when it comes to absorbing cultural norms. They choose from what they see as models for their own behaviors. The less they see of alcohol use, the less their chances of choosing to drink — whether one drink leads to more or not. For the eventual alcoholic, unfortunately, one drink all too often leads to many more, and a potential range of disasters.
For more statistics and prevention strategies regarding underage drinking, visit the webpage of the the Office of the Surgeon General.
Kids and drinks don’t mix.
Deborah Wood is a child development specialist in Annapolis. She holds a doctorate in Human Development from the University of Maryland at College Park and is founding director of the Chesapeake Children’s Museum. Long time fans and new readers can find many of her “Understanding Children” columns archived on the Chesapeake Family Magazine website. You can find her online at drdebbiewood.com.
What do you think? Leave your thoughts in the comments or submit a question to Dr. Debbie at Betsy@jecoannapolis.com