Beer for Teens?

Friends around the dinner table. One father talked about his 17-year-old-son's request to host a party, at home with parental supervision, where beer would be available to his friends. My kids are young enough that I haven't faced this one. But another mom at the table with teenagers spoke up immediately. "Absolutely not. Never."

I was surprised by how adamant she was. She explained that she'd recently been to a school-sponsored "Drugs and Drinking" seminar that warned of the dangers of permissive parents. Her takeaway was that kids whose parents let them drink at home drink earlier, drink more, and are at increased risk for developing alcoholism.

I asked what her feelings would be once her children left home to go to college. "Nothing I can do about drinking there," she said.

Now I am not a drinker myself. I may feel differently in a few years, but my current plan is to let my children experiment with drinking a bit at home before college. I'd rather be there to witness, monitor and follow-up on any excesses while my kids are still living at home and stop them from doing something idiotic like driving after drinking. This is my definition of balance when it comes to my teens and drinking. Other people's kids present an entirely different, even more frightening legal and moral conundrum, as On Parenting explored last year.

Apparently, people who study teenagers have examined this same dilemma. The Washington Post recently reported on an increase in girls' alcohol consumption in Catching Up to the Boys, in the Good and the Bad.

And the results of a study by the Virginia Institute for Psychiatric and Behavioral Genetics at Virginia Commonwealth University on parents and teenagers in Finland found that parental monitoring and discipline played the strongest role in teen drinking, especially during early adolescence. Drinking by parents had a stronger effect on older teens, in part because excessive drinking by adults creates a riskier environment for kids. It's hard to monitor or curtail kids' drinking when your snookered, the logic goes.

Also interesting: The study found that excessive discipline may unintentionally create greater risk for teen drinking as kids get older and seek a greater sense of autonomy. This rebelliousness makes sense to me, too.

What's your experience? How do you find balance when it comes to teenagers and alcohol experimentation? Do you let your teenagers drink in your house? What are your ground rules when it comes to drinking? Are your policies different from your neighbors or school community? What are your expectations and fears when it comes to teens and drinking?

By Leslie Morgan Steiner |  February 13, 2008; 6:15 AM ET  | Category:  Raising Great Kids
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First and first of all, feel free to let other people's underage children drink in your home if and only if you are interested in both a civil lawsuit and jail! Make whatever decisions you want for your own children, but don't make such an important decision for other families.

Posted by: moxiemom1 | February 13, 2008 7:32 AM

I haven't posted here often, but I am a regular reader. My name is Karen Rayne, and I teach classes for parents about adolescent sexuality. (My daily blog:

Now, I'm surprised that your friend stated that research shows that parental modeling and supervision of adolescent alcohol consumption leads to increased and excessive drinking. I'm also surprised that she advocates for a highly controlled environment (high school) leading up to extreme freedom (college).

As to the first, the research I have read suggests more what your research suggested: that controlled and monitored alcohol consumption leads to greater individual responsibility around alcohol.

And for the second, I am in complete agreement with your research. Slowly seeding "control" to your teenager over years is a much more effective way of guiding them to adulthood than keeping them completely under your control and then dumping them in an environment of complete freedom.

Now, notably I think that both of these conversations are secondary to the issue of the party. Providing alcohol to underage individuals (other than your own children) is illegal. We've had this conversation here (or maybe in On Parenting?), because parents were being seriously punished - think serious jail time - for providing alcohol to other people's teenagers. So the party seems like a really bad idea. Just not for the reason that your friend opposed it.

Posted by: karen.rayne | February 13, 2008 7:43 AM

We have a firm rule of no teen drinking in our home.

We made it very clear that we would not allow alcohol at their parties in our home, and we would call the parents to pick up anyone violating this.

At college, we made them aware of the their adult choices, and the campus consequences, legal consequences (loss of drivers licenses), and long term consequences of conviction (can't get / commute to job, etc.).

We did allow them an occaisinal sip from our glass at home, just to see how awful the stuff tasted.

Posted by: chemguy1157 | February 13, 2008 7:57 AM

chemguy1157 |

"We did allow them an occaisinal sip from our glass at home, just to see how awful the stuff tasted."

Ha, ha! I can't stand the smell or the taste of beer and most booze (and coffee). The smell of weed makes me dizzy. Needles scare me. Parental lectures/examples didn't prevent me from experimenting with/acquiring a range range of vices, my own body did.

Posted by: chittybangbang | February 13, 2008 8:11 AM

I disagree with hosting parties for teens and providing the alcohol. That's a far cry from allowing your kids to have a beer at a family gathering, or having wine with a holiday meal. I would want to know if my children were attending even supervised parties where drinking is allowed. Supervision is a funny thing. Parents could be home, in their bedroom while teens are partying in the basement (likely scenario).

Chances are, nothing bad would happen. But as in the case of my neighbor's son, he ended up in the emergency room after roughhousing with some other kids at a party with alcohol where the parents bought the alcohol.

My neighbors had no idea that there would be drinking. Their teen ended up having to have his face stitched up: someone had pushed him into a pool table and he cut his face. Very bloody.

Imagine your 14 or 15 year old daughter at such a party, where a few older boys are out of control. She's passed out and someone rapes her. Maybe she's not passed out, but just tipsy and can't fend off the advances.

You have no idea there would be drinking...even worse, the parents are home!

Posted by: readerny | February 13, 2008 8:17 AM

I have younger children, so have not faced this yet, but do not plan to allow my kids to drink at home. I live in Alexandria, chair the Substance Abuse Education and Violence Prevention Advisory Committee for the Alexandria City Public Schools, and am heavily involved with the Coalition for a Helathier Alexandria and it Substance Abuse Prevention Coalition of Alexandria. We are working hard in the City as a whole and school system to address these very issues, and come down on the side of the studies that show that drinking by teens and even young adults adversely affects brain development, and that learning to drink "responsibly" in a controlled home environment can backfire when these same kids get to the uncontrolled environment in college. There are many studies, and some have shown the opposite. Much the same for many other issues where you can find studies to support your position if you look hard enough. We have addressed the issue of parties for kids other than those of the host where beer is provided, and are clear that this is against the law, dangerous for all involved, and tolerated by a relative few. We are currently addressing post-graduation beach week issues, where some parents apparently are aiding is setting up rental units, and providing beer and wine "only) for the recent graduates. The idea, as described by others, is to take the keys, control the party, and keep things under control. The message, in my opinion, of supporting underage drinking is wrong for the kids involved, and sends a bad message to the siblings and others still in school that drinking is OK for teens. They won't wait for this graduation party, but take it as a cue to drink themselves with tacit approval of parents. What parents do in their own homes with their own children is their business, and we hope allparents do the research to ensure they are making the right decision for their kids. The dangers of underage drinking are well documented, and the laws are clear for involving kids other than your own. We welcome all to join the debate and the Coalition and Advisory Committee in Alexandria and in your own cities, towns, and school districts. We lose too many children to deaths caused by drinking, too many to alcoholism, and too much to the changes in our children that alcohol can cause. Blog here, discuss the issue everywhere, and join the public efforts to combat all substance abuse and the problems it can bring. Dave Cheney

Posted by: vikingfo | February 13, 2008 8:17 AM

I just wanted to add...that as a teen, I did drink. The legal age was only 18 then. My parents never condoned teen drinking, and they certainly never bought the alcohol.

That said, I wish my father especially would have shared more family history with me...I found out years later that alcoholism ran in our family. I've warned my son about it, and unfortunately, he is an anxious type anyway, so I've given him something to worry about.

I do worry about him going into the world without having experimented, but at the same time, I'm not overly strict. I've just given him information.

Posted by: readerny | February 13, 2008 8:19 AM

We are likely to take the European approach. They may have small amounts of alcohol at home to adjust to the idea. I'm talking an ounce of champagne with the celebratory dinner here.

This is how I was raised, and it seemed to be a great preventative. I, like the last poster, hated hard liquor and beer because they tasted awful. But wine was always nice (and served at religious ceremonies). Seeing it as the "forbidden fruit" makes for other problems.

When I was a teen, my friends and I drank only occasionally and very responsibly. Each of us had plenty of freedom, and the fully-stocked bar in each house was not locked. Nevertheless, we would often blend up a pitcher of virgin pina coladas for lounging in the pool. We could drink, we just didn't see the need. IF we went to a place where there would be drinking with a meal (we had access to that in the country in question), a designated driver was appointed before the trip.

When I got to college, there was never an issue. THAT is my goal.

Posted by: badmommy | February 13, 2008 8:21 AM

I was raised in a household where my parents drank wine with dinner every day, and had an extensive liquor collection that was unlocked and visible (although they rarely used it except for parties). If I wanted some wine, I could have some, but I rarely drank a whole glass. I tried sips of other stuff as a teen and didn't like it.

I didn't start drinking as a teenager, because there was no reason to--nothing mysterious about it, nothing I needed to experiment with. I didn't drink in college, because I had better things to do. I was twenty-five the first time I got drunk. Now I enjoy beer, wine, mixed drinks, and all in moderation.

I think teaching kids about the value of alcohol in moderation is an important part of raising a child. It's just like teaching them about the value of protected sex, staying drug-free, or how to handle their money. It's about teaching people how to handle a world that isn't black and white, where some stuff can be both good AND bad for you, depending on how you approach it.

Posted by: popslashgirl | February 13, 2008 8:22 AM

Oh - nobody else's kids will ever be drinking at my house, however. Too legally dangerous, and morally questionable. That is the other parent's call, not mine.

Posted by: badmommy | February 13, 2008 8:25 AM

My DD is only two, and our eventual alcohol policy will depend, in part, on her personality as she gets older. Right now, the only definite is a zero-tolerance policy for drinking outside our home, and absolutely no drinking with friends in our home. I would consider letting her have an occasional glass of wine or beer with dinner, depending on how mature she was.

FWIW, my parents were very strict. They knew where I was every second of every day when I was in HS (primarily because I wasn't allowed to go anywhere), and tried to control me long-distance when I went to college (they'd start calling my dorm room at 10:00 pm on weekends, and hit redial until I answered the phone. They'd sometimes also call at random times after that, so I couldn't wait in the room for their call then go out). They needn't have bothered. I drank one time freshman year, and it was an unpleasant enough experience that I didn't drink again until I was practically legal.

When I was in undergrad, the heaviest drinkers were the ones who were just continuing a lifestyle they adopted in high school with their parents' tacit or explicit permission. I remember being amazed on parents' day, as I watched the parents of the most notorious partiers haul coolers full of beer into the dorms. Those apples, it seemed, didn't fall far from the trees.

Posted by: newsahm | February 13, 2008 8:31 AM

This issue has always been a hobby horse of mine. Having spent my teen years in the U.S. and in Germany, I always thought the Germans (and most Europeans) were much more sane about drinking. When I was 16-17 in Germany, we used to have small parties at peoples houses all the time with beer and some liquor. The parents would be in the house, but would leave us alone. Everyone would stay the night. The vast majority of people could not drive anyway (must be 18), and those of us who could would not--the social and legal prohibition against driving after drinking was much stronger than in the U.S. So yes, we drank, but it was in a semi-supervised environment and alcohol was not some mystery.

Contrast that with the U.S., where many of us drank in high school, but the vast majority did so while at parks, in the woods, etc., and often people ended up driving and sometimes getting hurt.

You read about parents in the area who throw parties, confiscate keys, and serve booze. Prosecute them? This always makes me ask--Are you insane? {Evidently, yes, many people are} These people should get medals for protecting life. Read the paper--every year kids drink, drive and die. You do not want your kid to drink in high school? Keep them home, or teach them well. In college it always seemed like the people who truly lost it to drugs and alcohol were those whose parents tried to hold tightly to the reins. In general (and this whole discussion should have a big in general caveat), parents need to start letting go earlier than they think. Sounds like the author has a relatively rational approach to drinking.

Throwing a party where beer is served to other underage kids is a tougher question, if only because of the real legal liabilities. But if the parent knows all the kids, and it is a smaller party (no raging keggers with hundreds of people), breaking the law probably often makes sense. The kids are going to drink--the question is where and under what conditions. Some parents might complain, and with some justification, that they do not want their kids to be served alcohol. option is of course to make sure everyone who is invited has parents who know alcohol is going to be served. Or maybe--the parents just should not find out. Part of growing up is knowing when you can make decisions contrary to your parents wishes, and be prepared to suffer the consequences. Same for a parent who is taking the keys and handing out beer.

Something tells me this issue will not go away any time soon.

Posted by: Nuancematters | February 13, 2008 8:42 AM

for all you parents out there looking for some advice from someone who is not too old and not too young (27) and only being out of college 5 years I can honestly say that the kids who partied the hardest at my college and raised the most eyebrows were the kids sheltered in HS who got to college and literally developed a new persona. The kids who got to school and got into trouble drinking and with drugs were the one's who were sheltered by their parents in HS and not allowed to ever have a drink. Like the article says, those kids were more rebelling against their parents than anything, but that in my opinion that led to many cases of alcoholism. Once you get to school and develop the I want to drink myself silly attitude that's when problems start. Don't be stupid, let your kids drink at home, there is nothing wrong with that, plus it leads to family bonding, at least it did for me. For those of you naive enough to think your precious sheltered angel will go to college and not engage in drugs, promiscuous sex, stupid behavior, binge drinking, etc. think again, my theory is that the more the kid is sheltered the better chance to engage in this type of behavior. The kids who have normal parents who let them responsibly experiment in high school with drinking are the one's who go to college, have a good time, and generally don't get too out of control. Certainly there are exceptions but as a whole that was my experience.

Kids today have too much pressure on them to start with, and it is precisely this that leads them to go to college and rebel on the same parents who put the pressure on them in the first place.

Posted by: evansiegel | February 13, 2008 8:48 AM

"Or maybe--the parents just should not find out. Part of growing up is knowing when you can make decisions contrary to your parents wishes, and be prepared to suffer the consequences"

Wow. Seriously? You advocate a parent going behind other parents' backs and helping their underaged kids break the law? That's incredibly wrong. Who are you to make the rules for someone else's kids, and then encourage those kids to hide what they're doing from their parents? If I ever found out someone like you had been serving my daughter alcohol and encouraging her to hide it from me, you'd better believe I'd be pressing charges.

Posted by: newsahm | February 13, 2008 8:49 AM

Certainly I starting having a few sips before I was 18 (and 18 was the legal age back in the ancient times when I grew up. Anyone remember if you are old enought to die for your country, you can take a drink for your country. --maybe that was voting?) My concern about forbidding anything before 21 is that the kids would just go hog wild without any experience or discretion involved.

I will make an anology, watching the your kids drink moderate amounts is like a learner's permit for a car. Would you want a kid who has never driving before just turned loose with full privileges when he turns a certain age?

As for other kids, NO WAY in hell am I providing them any booze or sanctioning any event at my house.

Posted by: Fred | February 13, 2008 8:51 AM

As a parent of a 20 and 17 year old - I am "living in the moment" with this issue. My now-ex wanted the kids to try alcohol under our roof so we could supervise their experimentation and take away some of the "stigma of the forbidden". Our kids were raised with minimum alcohol in the house. When they reached 15/12 years old - What happened is my kids witnessed their dad drinking excessively (like a whole case) during social functions. They witnessed their dad providing alcohol to someone that was getting ready to drive away. I thought I was the responsible parent and stood up to my now-ex (one of the reasons why now "ex") on these issues. He took the route of leaving for someone who wasn't so "controlling". My oldest son started drinking excessively -not a Sat. night party, but almost every day. My ex confided that he let the kids store alcohol at his place and let them drink there. I couldn't believe what I was dealing with.

I almost wish the drinking age were back to age 18. It is too hard for parents to control the drinking from age 18 to 21 - especially as noted when kids leave to be on their own. I would rather have kids drink under my roof where I take their keys away then to let it be forbidden and I can't legally control. I have upheld the law in my house; my kids have rebelled and it has not been a pretty situation.

Posted by: cyntiastmancom | February 13, 2008 8:58 AM

This is a no-brainer question. It is illegal to provide alcohol to minors other than your own children. There is no way that I am going to show my children that I am willing to break the law just because I think it's OK. I also don't believe that anyone has the right to make that choice for other peoples' children.

My own children are allowed to have an occasional drink with family, at home, but then they are in for the night.

"The kids are going to drink--the question is where and under what conditions." Kids are going to have sex, too. Do you think we should all have a spare bedroom with condoms in the night stand to teach responsible sex?

Posted by: bettyj | February 13, 2008 8:59 AM

"The kids are going to drink--the question is where and under what conditions."

This attitude does more harm than any other message you can send as a parent.

In fact, as of 2001, 25% of U.S. adults never drink, and were lifetime abstainers. 40% of adults abstained as of the time of the survey. Heath Behaviors of Adults: United States, 1999-2001. Series Report 10, Number 219.

Drinking, like smoking cigarettes or weed, overeating, failing to exercise, or training for a marathon, is a choice. It is a choice some kids, but not all, and many adults, but not all, make. If you act as though teen drinking is inevitable rather than a conscious choice, your teen will certainly absorb the message that, "everyone drinks." Why not respect your teens enought to acknowledge that they, and many of their peers, might NOT choose to drink? Have you given them any reasons not to drink? Don't you think you owe them an honest conversation about the pros and cons of drinking rather than acting as though there is only one valid choice?

One of our prime responsibilities as parents is to teach our kids that they have choices and how to exercise that power to choose. We send the message that they are powerless to choose at their peril. I advocate neither abstinence or drinking. I am a fan of parents modeling independent, honest thought and discussing options rather than teaching kids that they are powerless to choose what is right for them -- even if what is right for them is different than the choices their friends or anyone else make.

Posted by: mn.188 | February 13, 2008 9:08 AM

It surprises me that so many people think it is ok to allow a teen to host a party with alcohol.

I have two teenage boys (well, one is now 21). I do expect them to experiment with alcohol. I do allow them the freedom to decide who to spend time with, and what to do. What I also do is make the consequences for making stupid decisions (driving while drinking, attending "open" parties when parents are away) very clear to them. To any of you parents that say today "I will let my kid learn to drink at home", I would tell you that that isn't what they will want to do. They will want to drink with their friends. And some of those friends will have permissive parents, and some will have parents that will sue you if they think you "condoned" something.

The best you can do is make sure you raise your kids to make mature choices, and that you make sure they suffer the consequences when they make the wrong ones. And I also believe that the WORST thing you can do is bar them from the opportunity to make these choices - as many have said, those kids are the ones that go nuts when the parental strings are loosened.

And I'll also tell you that one of the hardest things I have ever had to do was to watch in silence while my now 21-year old son got legally drunk at a party at my house. Not fun!

Posted by: jjtwo | February 13, 2008 9:13 AM is illegal to give your own kids alcohol underage here in NC. Adult beverages for adults only at this house.

There is also the safe house network where parents pledge no alcohol will be in the house. The pledge list is available on line even so parents can check to see if alcohol may be available. Sort of weird, but it does help some people. We have alcohol in the house (wine, beer fridge) so we aren't signed up.

Posted by: dotted_1 | February 13, 2008 9:27 AM

the rule in my house was always once your in college, you can drink. that seemed to work fine.

BUT also I will say I know people from HS who got DUIs or into accidents because they "had to drive home or else my parents will find out" or other such lame excuse. My father has an old cigar box in our front room. Inside is $100 . He always told us no matter what time it was, where we were, etc. leave the car, call a cab, and if you don't have any cash, pay the guy from the box and he'd replace the $$ - no questions asked. To this day, my siblings and I use the box after going out together on the holidays.

Posted by: ballgame | February 13, 2008 9:29 AM

This is the sample pledge sheet

Posted by: dotted_1 | February 13, 2008 9:29 AM

ballgame: what a great idea...mind if we use it?

Posted by: dotted_1 | February 13, 2008 9:30 AM

I have to admit that I grew up in a different time and a different country. It was illegal to drink before 19 but in that time, as long as you looked like you might be 19 you were allowed to drink without your ID being checked. I started drinking at dinners out with my bf at 16. I started drinking in bars at 18. My parents would serve us alcohol(even hard liquor) in our house starting when I was 12 or 13.

I was moderately responsible before I went to university. Mostly because I was living on my own trying to get good grades in high school and holding down one or two jobs to survive. It wasn't my parent's restrictiveness that prevented me from drinking... it was called survival.

I was one of those kids that went crazy once I was in university and free of my responsibilities to survive (govt paid my way). The freedom I had once I hit university was absolutely exhilarating. I just about drank my first semester away and part of my second. After that, I was a little more sane although I certainly knew how to party.

By the time I was in my late 20s, I had basically quit drinking. I am not sure that I have been drunk since then although I do occasionally have wine with dinner or have a drink or two when I am out with friends or even have a little liqueur on my balcony on a summer weekend.

I always joke with friends when I decline alcohol that I had enough alcohol in my 20s to last the rest of my life. I think some of my husband's friends think I am a bit of a stick in the mud but if we are out, only one of us can drink and I usually let the honey drink with his friends. Just because some of his friends drink and drive(we don't know for certain that they are drunk but we think they probably drank more than they should have) does not make it ok for us to drink and drive.

Posted by: Billie_R | February 13, 2008 9:37 AM

Just wanted to make sure we don't over idealize the European model. I have spent some time in Europe and one of the more disturbing things I saw was; 14, and 15 year old kids absolutely hammered in nightclubs. I knew this was troubling even when I was 22 and a bit of a party girl myself. This is not to say that there isn't some good rationale to their more moderate approach, but a reminder that teens in the EU are not immune from many of the same negative consequences of binge drinking.

Posted by: moxiemom1 | February 13, 2008 9:38 AM

JJTWO: It is your house. You don't have to stand by and allow anyone to overindulge on alcohol or anything while they are there, legal or not. If it wasn't pretty, why didn't you do something about it?

Posted by: vikingfo | February 13, 2008 9:38 AM

My sons have the "call me - no questions asked" option too. As well as their friends. Cab money is a great idea too but no cabs in the country. Unfortunately some kids don't seem mature enough to even take advantage of these helpful opportunities to handle someone NOT driving home drunk....

Posted by: cyntiastmancom | February 13, 2008 9:44 AM

My teen and now 20 year old are welcome to have wine with dinner on the occassion when we serve it, champagne on special occassions etc. My 20 year old may come in after working outside and have a beer with his dad(just in the last year) It is illegal to serve minors not your children and anyone who provides alcohol to teenage parties can be subject to fines and even jail time.(see recent case in Virginia) Additionally if you serve alcohol to teens that subsequetly drive and hurt themesleves or others, you could be subject to civil lawsuits.

Posted by: bradfielda | February 13, 2008 9:52 AM

I'm with moxiemom here, though from a different angle. Most the European people I know, mainly Germans, drink excessively. These are 30+ year old adults. So much for the European model.

I partied hard in high school (head-in-sand parents) and college, as did my peers. We all still drink socially, but rarely enough to get buzzed. It was a phase. We were all pretty serious about school, so that never suffered.

So, what about my daughter? I just want her to be safe, which I guess means we'll have to find a way to communicate that makes her comfortable asking for our help. Rides, cab fare, birth control, whatever. It means trying to teach her her worth. It means letting her know that we do have expectations of her. It means making her deal with the consequences of her actions.

Posted by: demandabanana | February 13, 2008 9:54 AM

My wife and I drink in front of our kids--a beer or glass of wine with dinner, etc. We also allow them to do the same. We feel it is our responsibility to teach our children how to drink responsibly.

Hopefully that makes it clear why we would never in 100 million years host a drinking party for them and their friends. How is this even a question? That is teaching irresponsible drinking--the exact opposite of what you want to be teaching.

Posted by: afsljafweljkjlfe | February 13, 2008 10:02 AM

I plan to encourage my sons when they hit their teens to try some wine, beer, etc, at home, just so they can see what it's like under "controlled" circumstances. I'd rather have their introduction to alcohol take place around the dinner table than off in some friend's basement, or car, or parking lot, etc.
I wouldn't have a problem letting one of their friends join us as well but I'd have to have the parents' explicit permission. (And this would be to join us at a family dinner, not to have a party!)

Posted by: acornacorn | February 13, 2008 10:05 AM

In Louisiana, it is not illegal for a parent, spouse or legal guardian to buy and possess alcoholic beverages for a person under 21.

The law further states that if a person who is not a parent, spouse or legal guardian buys booze for a minor, it is unlawful.

Public possession for those under 21 is also unlawful.

Posted by: Fred | February 13, 2008 10:11 AM

Just want to weigh in to agree with I think just about everybody else here. No way will I provide alcohol to any underaged person not my child - it's illegal and I'm not taking that rap.

We allow our own kids an occasional taste, and now that oldest DD is 18 we allow her to drink a glass of wine with us if she so chooses. She usually doesn't, but sometimes will.

Still remember DS, then 11, having a theological discussion with the priest about Communion Wine. It's legal in Maryland for kids to have small amounts of alcohol as part of religious ceremonies, but after all the anti-drugs-and-alcohol education at school, DS challenged the priest about why the church provided it. It was a fascinating discussion.

Re: European model - yep, there's a lot of teen drunkeness. The drinking age is 16 in most of Europe, and you'll see a lot of 16 year olds staggering around on Friday/Saturday nights. I don't think there used to be a minimum drinking age at all; I seem to vaguely recall a 13-year old walking into the local gasthaus and slapping a deutschmark on the counter, to be served a maas (a one-liter stein) of bier. Of course, there WAS a minimum drinking age in my house and the consequences were severe.

Totally agree with Fred that the minimum drinking age of 21 is ridiculous; I think it should be 18. I know it's because of the auto insurance lobbying that it's 21 and I've seen the drunken driving stats, but I've also seen oldest DD's friend at college get cited for drinking at the age of 20 years and 10 months. (Seriously - there was a party that the cops raided, and she got a citation because she was holding a beer and she wasn't 21.)

Posted by: ArmyBrat | February 13, 2008 10:16 AM

OK, I haven't had a chance to read all the comments today. But I would never host an underage drinking, sex, or drug party for legal reasons. But I would allow my child to have the occassional glass of wine or beer at dinner with the family. Under no circumstance would I serve alcohol to minor with out parental permission and probably only with their parent present. Sort of like having dinner with two families, I might say can Junior have a glass of wine with dinner? But your nuts to buy alcohol and serve it in your home to underage kids.

Posted by: foamgnome | February 13, 2008 10:23 AM

Never ever will I be providing alcohol to minors. Of my own volition, that is. If my kids are like me, they'll steal it at some point. I can be thrown in jail for such an offense.

I distinctly remember being at parties in high school and college where parents and kids were drinking. Those days are over, clearly. However, I think that the more restrictive you are about alcohol, the more likely your kids will act out with/because of it. That was certainly my experience growing up. My parents let us have wine at holidays, occasionally a sip of their beers, etc. It was not a big deal. We were told never ever to drive drunk and that there would be no repercussions for calling at all hours asking for a ride if that was the only safe way to get home. My husband and I have continued that with my stepdaughter, and will do so with our kids. Safety first.

Posted by: WorkingMomX | February 13, 2008 10:29 AM

"I'm with moxiemom here, though from a different angle. Most the European people I know, mainly Germans, drink excessively. These are 30+ year old adults. So much for the European model."

demandabanana, my family is German, and I've had German au pairs. My experience has been the exact opposite of yours. I wonder why. Many of my German relatives have a glass of wine or beer with meals (lunch and dinner) but I don't think that's excessive. God knows there are days when I'd love a glass of wine at lunch.

Posted by: WorkingMomX | February 13, 2008 10:33 AM

"I'm with moxiemom here, though from a different angle. Most the European people I know, mainly Germans, drink excessively. These are 30+ year old adults. So much for the European model."

demandabanana, my family is German, and I've had German au pairs. My experience has been the exact opposite of yours. I wonder why. Many of my German relatives have a glass of wine or beer with meals (lunch and dinner) but I don't think that's excessive. God knows there are days when I'd love a glass of wine at lunch.

Posted by: WorkingMomX | February 13, 2008 10:33 AM

18 year olds were granted the franchise on July 1971 as a result of the ratification of the 26th amendment. So, those of us who were old enough to die for our country could finally vote. (My first presidential election was 1972).

Paradoxically, as I was granted the right to vote, the military and then the states raised the drinking age to 21.

So now young people (like my AF dau) are old enough to vote (and die) for their country but not old enough to make a toast to it!

Posted by: Fred | February 13, 2008 10:38 AM

from dotted_1
" is illegal to give your own kids alcohol underage here in NC."

Does this apply to Passover Seders and to Catholics and others who use wine for Communion?

I'm ancient. Not only did my parents allow us to have a small taste of wine (and creme de menthe parrfaits) in the house, on occasion, when we went out to eat, they would ask the waiter/waitress for extra glasses and pout us a small amount in the restaurant. It was a common practice at the time (early 1960's).

I feel that we (my siblings and I) learned responsible drinking from this situation and my sibs have used the same scenario for my nephews. However, I have a cousin who let her then underage son and his friends drink multiple beers in the house and then go out for burgers. I think the important thing is that not only the location (the home) and the setting (a meal) but the amount (no more than 3-4 ounces of wine or beer) be controlled by the parents.

Posted by: destinysmom | February 13, 2008 10:41 AM

Fred - Yep. Nineteen year olds are considered to be mature enough to handle hand grenades, machine guns, rocket launchers, armor and artillery, but not alcohol.

They're old enough to die; further they're old enough to decide whether some other person is or is not an enemy combatant, and whether that other person should die.

But not to buy a six-pack at the Class Six store and drink it.

Posted by: ArmyBrat | February 13, 2008 10:45 AM

"Ha, ha! I can't stand the smell or the taste of beer and most booze (and coffee). The smell of weed makes me dizzy. Needles scare me."

Posted by: chittybangbang | February 13, 2008 08:11 AM

I'm glad Chitty mentioned beer, booze, weed and needles in the same short posting. See, there's the American "juicer culture," just as there's the "weed culture" and the "smack culture."

"Parental lectures/examples didn't prevent me from experimenting with/acquiring a range range of vices, . . ."

Our "parental lectures" consisted of (1) appealing to their sense of snobbery, and (2) our personal example. As to (1), you're not part of the juicer culture because you're better than the drunks who are part of it, just as you're not part of the smack culture because you're better than the junkies you see zonked out lying on the stoops in West Baltimore. To us, a "party" meant a social gathering of people. In the juicer culture, a social gathering of people does not satisfy the definition of "party" unless alcohol is available for consumption. As to (2), our kids noticed that we don't have beer in the house, and the only liquor we have is gin (for Chinese cooking) and brandy (for making veal flambé).

Whether it was our example or our appeal to snobbery, it worked. Even grown up, our children don't go to cocktail parties or beer parties. They're just not part of the juicer culture, just as we aren't.

". . . my own body did."

My own body told me that beer (like coffee) is bitter. With bad lungs, I never dared try a single cigarette, but my brother did, and it was so awful that he never smoked another one.

Naturally, if your family is a happy and enthusiastic particpant in the American juicer culture, none of the above applies to you. But the following does apply:

As for hosting beer parties for teenagers -- what happened to the "golden rule"? You wouldn't want your children's friends parents serving beer to your teenagers, would you? So don't serve it to those parents' children. Besides, Maryland Annotated Code, Criminal Article (one of the black books), §10-117, makes it a crime to furnish alcohol to anyone under 21 years old who is not part of your immediate family, except as part of a religious ceremony. Remember the sign on the lawn outside the New Haven State Jail: "Anyone who asks you to do the wrong thing is never your friend."

Posted by: MattInAberdeen | February 13, 2008 10:46 AM

Wow. There is a huge difference between teaching kids about alcohol through a beer or a glass of wine with dinner and sponsoring a teen event with booze. Isn't part of the point to make it clear that alcohol isn't all about getting drunk drunk drunk, and that parties can and do still work without people passed out on the floor?

This is no issue for me at the moment, but why not teach your kids to have a good working knowledge of wine or beer (whichever you prefer), make intoxication against family rules, and sponsor non-alcohol parties at home? After all, the point is not to let your teens get all their binge-drinking perfected prior to college, it's to make alcohol a moderate and safe part of social interaction before putting them in an alcohol-rich and judgment-poor environment.

If you want to give your kid one take-away from their home experiences with alcohol, make it this: drinking does not mean getting drunk.

Posted by: krasni | February 13, 2008 10:47 AM

I wouldn't host a party for other people's underage kids with alcohol. First, I think it would be wrong to serve it without their parents' permission. But even with permission, the liability (criminal, civil, moral) is tremendous. Something awful could happen and I don't want that on my criminal record or my conscience.

As far as my own kids, I haven't really decided yet. I never really wanted to drink before college. I just felt that was something you should wait for college to experiment with. Certainly after my children have started college and are 18, they can drink in my house, so long as they act responsibly. That was the drinking age when I was in college, so I have no problem with them drinking once they are 18. But I won't serve their friends.

I think teaching responsible drinking is really the key. Don't drink and drive, don't get in fights.

Posted by: cliffmerrell | February 13, 2008 10:49 AM

I certainly know people who would have been better off if their first exposure to alcohol hadn't been at frat parties first week of freshman year! Like it or not, most people are curious. If someone's curious to know not just what something tastes like, but what its effects are, I'd sure rather that person be experimenting around people who care for their well-being than a bunch of strangers - especially drunk college boys.

Posted by: esbrucho | February 13, 2008 10:54 AM

So now young people (like my AF dau) are old enough to vote (and die) for their country but not old enough to make a toast to it!

Posted by: Fred | February 13, 2008 10:38 AM

Fred, with all due respect to your daughter, I'm guessing if the 18-21 year olds actually voted, they would have more of a voice. I'm not necessarily talking about your girl, but all the data I've seen is that this group doesn't vote. And as we know, our politicians won't represent a constituency that doesn't show up in polls.

Posted by: moxiemom1 | February 13, 2008 10:55 AM


Most states have an exception for alcoholic spirits used in religious ceremonies. Here is one such,

"...The possession and dispensation of wine by an authorized representative of any church for the purpose of conducting any bona fide rite or religious ceremony conducted by such church shall not be prohibited by this chapter."

Posted by: Fred | February 13, 2008 10:55 AM

mn.188--If you teach your kids not to drink, or they do not want to drink, then there is not much of an issue, is there (beyond making sure they know to call if they do slip up.) The point is not that a parent should offer every kid booze. It's that if you have kids who are drinking, it is better to have them do it in a safe environment instead of in the woods/at a park/at someones empty house with the parents away. These are also environments that are much more likely to lead to sexual assualt--happens in colleges too often.

The European model does have plenty of teen drunkenness--more open than in the U.S.--but it also offers (at least in my experience in Germany) much more protection against drinking and driving. Especially when you are at someones house with the parents there.

bettyj--As far as kids having sex--actually, I think parents should look at providing or at least discussing birth control with their kids. Abstinence education appears to be a pretty dismal failure (and not in sync with nature.) By all means teach your kids that it is better to wait/need for emotional maturity/whatver your religious belief is--but maybe keep an eye on the kid themselves and how they are turning out. I do not think you need to provide a room because the point of having kids drink at home is so they do not drive drunk and kill themselves or others. Not so worried about making sure kids have a safe place to have sex--that is rarely hard to find if they are determined. Better in my mind if they use birth control.

Newsahm--not sure if it makes sense for a parent to do something that another parent would not approve. I remember a good friend;s parents took me to see the "Terminator" movie even after my parents (really my mom) said no. Dad sort of winked....I survived. And my point was also that the parent would have to accept responsibility if, say you, found out your daughter had been drinking at someone's house with a parent present. But if your dear daughter is a crazy partier, and you are oblivious (which seems pretty common from where I am), then someone choosing to lock kids in rather than let them drive drunk makes sense to me. It's a discussion board, I am more interested in people's thoughts as to why.

I guess the whole "it's breaking the law" is also not something I worry to terribly about. There are plenty of stupid laws out there, or laws that are no longer applicable. One of the geniuses behind the American system is that the system often recognizes this--you have prosecutorial discretion. (Ok, getting out of my depth here.) Most people I know speed (esp. in DC!) So they are consciously breaking the law, and generally willing to accept the consequences. 70 in a 65 does not appear to interest anyone, even though it is more dangerous. Of course, a 5000 pound car speeding does plenty of damage. Esp. when driven by a drunk kid.

Anyway, people choose to break laws all the time, and face the consequences. It is part of being a rational, free citizen.

Posted by: Nuancematters | February 13, 2008 11:00 AM

«One father talked about his 17-year-old-son's request to host a party, at home with parental supervision, where beer would be available to his friends.»
«By Leslie Morgan Steiner | February 13, 2008; 6:15 AM ET»

These friends, do their parents want them to grow up to become Western men? Then, give them beer!

A repost, from last October --

Friday - Western man cashes his paycheck and drives straight to Happy Hour at the bar.
There, he drinks a glass of beer.
Then, a stein of beer.
Then, a whole pitcher of beer.
Why? Because he's Western man!
A drunkard he is, drink he must, because he's Western man.

Friday - Eastern man hears the call of the muezzin and hurries to the masjid.
There, he takes off his sandals, washes his hands and feet.
Then, he listens to verses chanted from the Holy Qur'an.
Then, he bows down low and prays.
Why? Because he's Eastern man!
Sober he is, pray he must, because he's Eastern man.

Friday - Western man comes out of the bar and drives home, drunk.
He misses the driveway and crashes into a lawn ornament and breaks it.
He growls at his children, slaps his wife when she burns the pork chops.
He rampages into the bedroom, tears open pillows, scatters feathers all over.
Why? Because he's Western man!
A drunkard he is, rampage he must, because he's Western man.

Friday - Eastern man comes out of the masjid and goes to his tent.
There, he greets his wives and children in peace.
He sits on his cushion in peace.
He drinks his coffee in peace.
Why? Because he's Eastern man!
Sober he is, peace he must seek, because he's Eastern man.

Posted by: abu_ibrahim | February 13, 2008 11:01 AM


Oh, I don't disagree on what you say about 18-21 yr olds voting.
I have observed that 18-21 yr olds in the military take voting a bit more seriously. I will guarantee you that they know who the Sec'y of their particular branch, the Sec'y of Defence, the Sec'y of State and the Prez and VP are.
They know their chain of command.

Like Army Brat (I believe) said, they know who would send them into danger and have an interest in that person.

Posted by: Fred | February 13, 2008 11:07 AM

Dang, I'm actually with the majority today -- who knew? I will absolutely not, never, throw a drinking party for kids at my house. If they're not my kids, it's not my choice whether they drink or not.

I haven't really had to think about where else I will draw the line, because kids are still little. I suspect it will have a lot to do with my kids' personalities and maturity levels. Which may well mean that baby boy gets to drink earlier than big sis, because she tends to go way more extreme on everything -- yet another "unfairness" she can complain of. :-)

But the two big points I want them to understand are pretty clear to me already, just not sure how to get there. First, never ever ever drink and drive. That's the "I will sell your car tomorrow" rule (presuming they actually have a car, which is also unlikely). I like the $100 in the cigar box idea, and the "call me no questions asked" idea.

Second, the concept of drinking = a glass, not a keg; that drinking does not mean "party till you puke"; that it's not some "forbidden fruit" to lust after; that a sip or a glass can be just a normal part of life, not an excuse to lose control and get stupid. Obviously, a big part of that is modeling -- if mom and dad slam a sixpack, then that's what the kids are going to learn.

But I also think another big part is not treating it as some huge forbidden "secret" that you are magically let in on at 21, with no preparation. I do have a problem with the fact that 18-yr-olds can elect the President of the US, pilot a 6,000-lb vehicle, and die for their country, but can't be trusted with a Bud. I suspect, as my kids get into their upper teens, that we'll allow then to have a small glass at dinner with us if they want. I figure that may be the best way to make drinking seem as boring as the rest of family dinner. :-)

Posted by: laura33 | February 13, 2008 11:13 AM

The stereotypes on here are silly, how long till someone cites the Irish? My grandparents were German, they were from the old country and yes, they drank, but they were not drunks. Neither were any of their 9 kids. I knew a German exchange student in HS that didn't drink at all. I saw her at our 20 year reunion and her German husband does not drink either, although she had a glass of wine. So much for evidence. When I was in Germany I was a drunk American - gee what did they think? I assume they thought all Americans are drunks.

I really appreciate krasni's comments, teaching about the proper social use of alcohol and it's potential pitfalls should be a goal. Drinking does not have to mean getting drunk. After a good hangover or two most people get a good realization.

Army Brat and Fred have made equally good comments. As for the voting age, serving our country and drinking age comparison, I suspect even if 18-21 year olds voted en masse, the drinking age would not be raised. The PC environment that surrounds the drinking age as an issue will keep it at 21 for a very long time.

Ignore the extreme comments on either side, make your children aware and realize your behavior has an impression. If you don't educate them, someone else will, that is where the danger lies.

Posted by: cmac | February 13, 2008 11:18 AM

I based my rules strictly on what was legal - this was a huge help when discussing whether pot was as bad a beer, etc. etc., with both kids and PARENTS. My husband and I decided early on that we would do nothing illegal, nor would we allow our kids to.

Posted by: rjones | February 13, 2008 11:19 AM

I grew up in Germany and drank as a teenager. My experience there was significantly different then my brother when he went to high school in the US. Three things made a significant difference in my experience there: (1) My parents accepted it. They were there for me whenever I needed a ride home from a pub or nightclub. (2) Driving a car didn't happen until 17-18 and there was plenty of public transportation - a car wasn't needed, and (3) The society is such that if you have the capability of drinking, you also have the responsiblity of being an adult and expected to behave as one.

The result was we didn't go out on the weekends to purposely get drunk, but rather to just socialize. Some got drunk, but we also took turns being a designated driver and accepted it. We didn't have parents are schools telling us to do so, we just took care of each other. It was an amazingly safe environment to grow up. A far cry from my brother's experience in the US. Finally, once I entered college in the US, it was shocking to see the binge drinking and how kids didn't care what they drank, as long as it was alcohol. Amazing. I didn't drink for the sole purpose of drinking, but many others did.

Unfortunately, more in the US has to change - not just the freedom to host a party for teenagers that serves alcohol. Too much liability.

Posted by: paulsouza | February 13, 2008 11:20 AM

Great discussion. To me the line is clear -- I want to let my kids learn how to drink (at least a little) in my house, under my guidance. I would never, ever let another kid drink under my supervision unless the parents agreed (preferably in writing!!!) for all the legal and moral reasons outlined in the discussion above. It's hard to make such a tough issue black and white, but that's how I want to proceed. Fingers crossed!

Posted by: leslie4 | February 13, 2008 11:21 AM

I also want to add that by focusing exclusively on legal angles, I think we miss other parenting issues here. The law is black and white but raising kids never is.

Posted by: leslie4 | February 13, 2008 11:27 AM

We had a similar arrangement with our daughters.

If they were ever anywhere, at any time of day or night, they could call us or a cab, for immediate pickup service with no questions asked.

They used this a few times when they felt uncomfortable at parties by others drug use or excessive drinking.

Posted by: chemguy1157 | February 13, 2008 11:34 AM

OK, I will make this very plain,

Leslie, I think that you are WRONG on this,
"... unless the parents agreed (preferably in writing!!!)"

Unless the law where you live permits any adult to furnish a minor with alcohol beverages, you may well be doing something illegal. The fact that the parents consent has no bearing on the law.

As I noted before, in Louisiana, parents, spouse and guardians may lawfully give minors some booze. BUT the law specifically excludes anyone else from doing so.

Dotted 1 pointed out that any possession or use of alcohol in N.C. by minors is illegal. PERIOD!

You may want to RETHINK your attitude on this one!

Posted by: Fred | February 13, 2008 11:42 AM

cmac - Well, let me tell you about this Irish wedding I went to a few years ago. (Sorry, I couldn't resist. :-)

(We've stayed friends with our Irish au pair, and a few years ago we went over to Galway for a week for her wedding. Boy was that a party. :-)

Posted by: ArmyBrat | February 13, 2008 11:42 AM

Despite whether a parent drinks or not, they have a responsibility to educate their child on the dangers of alcohol and how to safely drink. Not shoving a drink in their hand mind you, but letting them know that people from all walks of life drink, even if we (as your parents)do not.

Some kids will have no interest in drinking till they are 30. Some will never drink. Parents do not decide whether to drink for their adult children, just as kids away at school do not always stick with their current behavior. Hopefully they have a couple facts and common sense under their belts, otherwise the experimentation can be dangerous.

Posted by: yesIhavenobananas | February 13, 2008 11:45 AM

Fred (@11:42) is right again. Don't know about DC laws, but I'd be surprised if they're much different from Maryland.

In Maryland, if you provide alcohol to someone who's under 21 who's not your child, EVEN WITH the parents' written permission, you're breaking the law. The consequences can be quite severe.

As "Nuancematters" pointed out, what the consequences will be depends on prosecutorial discretion. However, in Howard County the previous state's attorney often sought to make an example of adults who hosted/sponsored alcohol parties. If you're confident your local prosecutor will let you off the hook, you may be more willing to violate the law.

If you can't do the time, don't do the crime. If you're going to do the crime, be ready and willing to do the time.

Posted by: ArmyBrat | February 13, 2008 11:47 AM

VIKINGFO - yes, I know it is my house. (drives me crazy when people nit-pick my posts, by the way). My son, yes, he was drunk. He was also perfectly behaved, didn't have to drive anywhere, and really quite a bit more charming than his usual charming self. Just in this case his words were slurred, his eyes were glassy and he kept hugging everyone. That's the part that was hard to see. I didn't say he acted inappropriately, or that he shouldn't have had so much to drink. Just trying to tell the other parents here (with younger children) what they might have to look forward to.

Posted by: jjtwo | February 13, 2008 11:48 AM


"The stereotypes on here are silly, how long till someone cites the Irish? My grandparents were German, they were from the old country and yes, they drank, but they were not drunks."

Those wacky Germans have a lot more to drink about than the Irish....

Posted by: chittybangbang | February 13, 2008 11:52 AM

destiny - there are no exceptions...see with NC statute citations:According to North Carolina General Statute (NCSG) 18B-302 (a), as a parent/guardian, you cannot legally
give alcohol to any child, including your own, who is under the age of 21, even in your own residence, even
with another parent's permission, no matter what the circumstance. In addition, NCGS 14-316.1; 18B-302(c)
specifies that you can not knowingly allow an underage person to consume or possess alcohol in your residence,
even if you did not provide the alcohol.

all: some local parents are doing jail time for their kids throwing a party in their walkout basement while they slept in the third floor (facing the other side of the house). Some kids brought alcohol, cops came and arrested everyone...parents were woken up and are doing jail time

Posted by: dotted_1 | February 13, 2008 11:52 AM

Army Brat - Glad you had a good time in Galway and that you kept in touch.

My neighbor went to Ireland for a "family reunion" with long lost relatives, his extended family totaled 150 people at the local pub welcoming him with open arms and lots of Guinness. When he came home he told us to believe everything we have heard about the Irish and their capacity to drink and keep merry!

Posted by: cmac | February 13, 2008 11:54 AM

cmac - I can't vouch for the irish, but I know when I go back to Melbourne, the pub is jammed with VB pints (Victoria Bitter...not available outside of Australia, alas)

Posted by: dotted_1 | February 13, 2008 11:57 AM

And to add another voice to the ITS ILLEGAL argument - its what I had to tell a few PARENTS that were sneaking a joint out behind the garage at a family cook out - I didn't care whether the laws were fair or not, it was ILLEGAL and NOT IN MY HOUSE.

Posted by: rjones | February 13, 2008 12:01 PM

When I was a girl we went to Europe one summer and my sister and I were allowed wine with dinner. That's one way to introduce your kids to drinking.

Otherwise I think a no-alcohol policy is the only way to go. Wine with a family dinner when it's just family is probably OK, but no with-friend under aged drinking. Believe me, they'll figure out how to drink without parents helping them!

My older son lived at home awhile after college before moving out and had parties with drinking. At that point I preferred him to drink at home so I wouldn't worry about drinking and driving.

When he was under aged I know they drank, and my big nag was about not drinking and driving.

Onto a new question - what about when you smell other illegal substances coming up from the party room?

Posted by: RedBird27 | February 13, 2008 12:16 PM

Dotted, my daughter's teacher from last year is an Aussie. My husband ran into him at our local Irish Pub and they got into a discussion over what he drinks at home vs here. They also discussed how urinals differed in pubs all over the world - particularly since one urinal in the bathroom was tall enough for Shaq. Needless to say, the conversation literally went down the toilet and both ended up getting rides home.

Posted by: cmac | February 13, 2008 12:20 PM

cmac - you're cracking me up!

And then there was this stand-up-and-over urinal for women in some places in Australia. I had a tough time with the concept as I was in shorts.

Posted by: dotted_1 | February 13, 2008 12:22 PM



Posted by: Fred | February 13, 2008 12:41 PM

Dotted, thanks for that (11:52 AM). I would be interested to read the police perspective on these situations.

Underage drivers typically have less driving experience and perhaps not such good driving judgment at night (even when sober, but especially when DUI).

E.g., many years ago a gory crash occurred late one weeknight in front of our house. Four boys from a nearby town including two brothers, ages 16-19, had been out that evening for a joy-ride in the 19-year-old's brand new car (just got it 5 days earlier, still had paper plates). They'd evidently consumed a good deal of alcohol in the car, then were driving home. The drunk driver made a jack-rabbit start out of an 4-way stop a couple blocks from our home, then began jerking the steering wheel around in order to scare the younger passengers just for fun. Naturally he lost control of the car and it veered into a power pole, then went airborne @$$-over-teakettle through our neighbor's tree before landing on its roof in our yard. The driver was critically injured and his brother seated directly behind him was killed, while the two young men seated in the right side of the car were less seriously injured. DH and other neighbors called 911 immediately. This was back in the pre-cellphone era, so the right-side back-seat passenger -- who'd just witnessed the friend sitting next to him die -- somehow managed to crawl out of the wreckage and stagger up to our house in order to phone friends, so we overheard his uncensored version of the accident. We then accompanied him outside (by which time the first police had arrived), where we heard him tell an officer what had happened (the kid was too drunk to think up lies yet). Several minutes later the father of the dead and the badly-injured brothers arrived, loudly protesting that his sons didn't drink because they were good boys, born-again Christians, yadda yadda yadda. (I refrained from asking why, in that case, they were out joyriding late on a school night, and with alcohol in the car?) The police and 5 firehouses worth of rescue squads had their hands full for hours dealing with the father as well as processing the accident scene (we were impressed with their compassionate professionalism and have nothing but the utmost admiration for them all) -- including working an hour just to extricate and stabilize the driver, then removing his brother's corpse respectfully. The media (including all of our local TV stations) covered the crash responsibly. The driver's family soon thereafter went into cover-up mode, however, especially after he was charged with several felonies in the case, but rumor has it he lost both his left arm and leg in the accident. BTW, two of our good neighbors had just driven home from work (swing-shift) a few minutes before the accident, and marveled at the sheer luck that neither they nor any other vehicles were also victims of the crash. In any event, the tragedy that the driver brought on his family is surely of mythological, or biblical, proportions, and I've always wondered how he and the rest of the family has managed to get on with their lives. I've always wondered whether any of the masses of nice grief-stricken teens who congregated on our lawn over the next several days were "scared straight" into not driving drunk after that.

Posted by: mehitabel | February 13, 2008 12:41 PM


"In any event, the tragedy that the driver brought on his family is surely of mythological, or biblical, proportions, and I've always wondered how he and the rest of the family has managed to get on with their lives. "

Lots and lots of denial.

"I've always wondered whether any of the masses of nice grief-stricken teens who congregated on our lawn over the next several days were "scared straight" into not driving drunk after that."

Very few. The "fear factor" wears off quickly, especially for teens.

Posted by: chittybangbang | February 13, 2008 12:49 PM

Chitty, I suspect you're right. Unfortunately.

Posted by: mehitabel | February 13, 2008 12:57 PM

Dotted, the Up and Over was probably designed in a time of skirts only apparel for women - not a modern invention, huh?

I have only traveled abroad after college in 1989 and have many bathroom (horror) stories. A good portion of our time in Europe was dedicated to finding a clean public bathroom. Outside the grounds of Versailles there was a clearly marked public restroom - we were sure it would be nice due to it's location. Uh-uh - it was a hole in the floor with 2 feet print, not even a rope to cling to in case you lost your footing. We deviced a plan to lend a hand to hold on to (when it is time to go, you go) all the while yelling "Hang on!" We ran outside laughing like loons. The French were not amused.

I have since heard of other experiences in French bathrooms, some of which I can not share.

Posted by: cmac | February 13, 2008 1:02 PM

Ahh, European bathrooms! My favorite parts are #1 - do I have to pay and do I have any change with me? If I don't have any change but I really gotta go, am I comfortable being an a$$h--e american and just stiffing the little old lady sitting there? Answer, yes.

#2 - where is the flushing mechanism. Many a time, I have stood in a European bathroom, hands on hips trying to figure out how to flush it.

Our family motto when travleing, not only abroad, but everywhere is: when travleing, if you have a chance to go to the bathroom go becuase you never know where the next one will be.

The Europeans will never dominate the globe until they get a handle on proper plumbing! hee hee

Posted by: moxiemom1 | February 13, 2008 1:08 PM

all of you who, like my friend, have a firm no-alcohol policy -- how do you feel about your kids going off to college or to live on their own, and to experiment with alcohol without your guidance? or to get guidance from other kids? aren't you worried about
that? i am.

it's not all about legality, although i agree that's important.

Posted by: leslie4 | February 13, 2008 1:19 PM

Leslie wrote: "it's not all about legality"

Um, yes it is, WRT underage potential drinkers.

Posted by: mehitabel | February 13, 2008 1:25 PM

"and to experiment with alcohol without your guidance?"

Frankly, my hope and belief is that my child is never without my guidance, wherever he lives. I would hope that during the 18 or so years prior to a child heading off to college, the parents have provided guidance not just on particular choices made in the moment but a value system that guides all choices whether made in the parents' presence or not. Self-respect, responsibility, self-restraint, independent thinking; these are characteristics that we take a life-time to teach our children and that they carry with them wherever they go.

Of course kids are going to try new things and make bad choices and learn from them, not only when they leave for college but long before and long after. Regardless of whether you let your kids drink alcohol before they are 21 or not, the point is to teach your children how to make good decisions and how to learn from the bad choices they make. Otherwise it doesn't matter how many times you let them have one beer with you, if they don't know how to choose wisely when you aren't there.

Posted by: LizaBean | February 13, 2008 1:40 PM

LizaBean, I agree. My dad's been dead for several years now, but I'm still never without his guidance, because I remember his values and embrace them (well, most of them, enough to call him the principal influence on my own adult values). He taught by example. Must log off for a while, as there seems to be a speck in my eye...

Posted by: mehitabel | February 13, 2008 1:47 PM

For those commenting about European bathrooms, wait until you experience your first Japanese bathroom.

There are two kinds, which we'll refer to as "old school" and "new school".

Old school bathrooms consist of a hole in the floor, over which you squat. That's it.

New school bathrooms consist of advanced porcelain and ceramic water closets with the best technology Japan has to offer - and they have a lot to offer! There's nothing like staring at 93 different buttons on the toilet, trying to interpret the graphic drawings to figure out which one makes it flush. Hmm, this one? Makes it blast hot air on you. This one? Blasts cold air. This one, then? Squirts warm water a la a bidet? This one? Makes some truly mysterious noises but doesn't cause a flush. Okay, I give up - which blankety-blankety button do I push to make this darned thing flush and not blast me with air, water, cologne, or other mysterious substances?

Posted by: ArmyBrat | February 13, 2008 1:49 PM

"how do you feel about your kids going off to college or to live on their own, and to experiment with alcohol without your guidance? or to get guidance from other kids? aren't you worried about
that? i am."

I feel that there's a certain point at which you have to trust in your kid and in the way you've raised him or her, and let go. And I hope that by the time she's 18, my DD will have absorbed enough of our values that she won't go nuts in college. I'm not fool enough to think she'll will never drink or do anything stupid when she leaves us, but nor do I think it's inevitable that she'll be getting trashed every weekend. I certainly knew plenty of non-drinkers in undergrad, and somehow we managed to have a lot of fun.

Posted by: newsahm | February 13, 2008 2:02 PM

Mehitabel, exactly. My parents' guidance and influence is always with me -- even though I have not always listened ;)

Posted by: LizaBean | February 13, 2008 2:04 PM

Army Brat - that's funny. I'm picturing a salon my my hoo hoo! I could walk out of there looking better than I did going in! I'm laughing at the picture of you trying to decipher the buttons!

Posted by: moxiemom1 | February 13, 2008 2:08 PM

A question regarding research that was mentioned early in this blog. Is there any research showing that introducing your kids to alcohol is a predictor of lower alcohol consumption as a teen--and, importantly, as an adult? If you know it, please give citations. I've asked a certified substance abuse counselor, who has worked in the field for years, about any such research--and she said she hadn't seen any. I haven't either. Quite the contrary.

Often times, this alcohol debate has the overtones of the smoking debate in the 70s. Even after the Surgeon General released a report on the dangers of smoking, politicians and others (including Jimmy Carter) were entertaining the possibility that the research to date was wrong and that smoking would be found safe. Of course, that didn't happen.

The preponderance of evidence coming out today shows that kids who drink younger have a greater chance of exhibiting addictions as adults, according to NIH. Its research showed that 40% of those drinking by age 15 will suffer from addictions at some point in their adult lives. The numbers decline as the person gets older; the older the person, the lesser the chance of developing addictions. That is because the brain is wired to form habits during youth. Development in critical parts of the brain involving judgment and addictions is not completed until age 25.

Further, as someone pointed out, the European experience is not a healthy model. France, for instance, has the highest rate of cirrhosis of the liver in the world. Other European countries are dealing with epidemic teen drinking. The physiology of youthful drinking doesn't change when you cross borders. The health outcomes are the same.

When a parent introduces alcohol in the home, it sends the signal that underage drinking is okay. (Recent research shows even in moderation, underage drinking impacts brain development.) Teens might be at home drinking tonight, and somewhere else tomorrow night where you aren't supervising.

As for college students, the research shows that the more kids drank in high school, the more they drink in college. Anecdotal information about "repressed" high school drinkers just doesn't hold in national studies.

Parents need to bring themselves up to date on such research. A good place to start is the Community of Concern website at Or a simple Google search for alcohol abuse facts or underage drinking. The Federal Government has a lot of information posted.

We may be in the storm of confusion with people throwing out conflicting research data, much like that during the 70s about smoking (or the current era with ongoing controversy about global warming!) But the addiction experts are convinced that the verdict is in and the odds for future problems with alcohol (and incidence of even heart disease) is higher for underage drinkers. That's up to 21, at least.

Cate Alexander Brennan, Substance Abuse Prevention Coalition of Alexandria

Posted by: cbalexander | February 13, 2008 2:10 PM

moxie - the description below is from Wikipedia, "Toilets in Japan". Note the descriptions of "random button pushing" and "unusable by foreigners".

(Side note: My toilet plays Mendelssohn? Never - Beethoven, I say, or maybe some AC/DC. :-)

"Advanced features

Other features may include a heated seat, which may be adjustable from 30°C to 40°C; an automatic lid equipped with a proximity sensor, which opens and closes based on the location of the user.[4] Some even play music to relax the user's sphincter (some Inax toilets, for example, play the first few tunes of Op. 62 Nr. 6 Frühlingslied by Felix Mendelssohn). Other features are automatic flushing, automatic air deodorizing, and a germ-resistant surface.[4][20][37] Some models specially designed for the elderly may include arm rests and devices that help the user to stand up after use. A soft close feature slows the toilet lid down while closing so the lid does not slam onto the seat, or in some models, the toilet lid will close automatically a certain time after flushing. The most recent introduction is the ozone deodorant system that can quickly eliminate the smells. Also, the latest models store the times when the toilet is used and have a power saving mode that warms the toilet seat only during times when the toilet is likely to be used based on historic usage patterns. Some toilets also glow in the dark or may even have air conditioning below the rim for hot summer days. Another recent innovation is intelligent sensors that detect someone standing in front of the toilet and initiate an automatic raising of the lid (if the person is facing away from the toilet) or the lid and seat together (if someone is facing the toilet).[4]

Text explaining the controls of these toilets tend to be in Japanese only. Although many of the buttons often have pictograms, the flush button is often written only in Kanji meaning that users who are not well versed in the Japanese writing system may be unable to flush the toilet except through random button pressing. Thus, despite the many advanced features, the toilet is unusable for some foreigners.

[edit] Future developments

Recently, researchers have added medical sensors into these toilets, which can measure the blood sugar based on the urine, and also measure the pulse, blood pressure, and the body fat content of the user.[3][4] Talking toilets that greet the user have also started being made.[4] Other measurements are currently being researched. This data may automatically be sent to a doctor through a built-in internet-capable cellular telephone.[37] However, these devices are still very rare in Japan, and their future commercial success is difficult to predict. A voice-operated toilet that understands verbal commands is under development.[4] TOTO, NAIS, and other companies also produce portable, battery-operated travel washlets, which must be filled with warm water before use.

It is possible to use the water jet on a high-pressure setting for an enema, and some users take advantage of this to help them with their constipation.[38] It is also reported that women may be sexually stimulated through the water jet.[38]

The seat-heating feature is very common, found even on toilets that lack the bidet features. Often this is used as an example of unnecessary use of technology, but as most Japanese homes lack central heating, the bathroom may be only a few degrees above freezing in the winter, and a pre-warmed seat may not seem so frivolous.[4][19]"

Posted by: ArmyBrat | February 13, 2008 2:15 PM

"destiny - there are no exceptions...see with NC statute citations:According to North Carolina General Statute (NCSG) 18B-302 (a), as a parent/guardian, you cannot legally
give alcohol to any child, including your own, who is under the age of 21, even in your own residence, even
with another parent's permission, no matter what the circumstance.

Posted by: dotted_1 | February 13, 2008 11:52 AM"

So I take it you don't have any practicing Jews in North Carolina?

Posted by: destinysmom | February 13, 2008 2:16 PM

"Some even play music to relax the user's sphincter "

Har har har -'t .... breathe. LOL, LOL, LOL - What's that song again? I know a few Moms who could use that kind of outcome! LOLOLOLOL

Posted by: moxiemom1 | February 13, 2008 2:29 PM

Maybe Handel's "Water Music"?

Posted by: mehitabel | February 13, 2008 2:33 PM

Smetana's "The Moldau"?

Posted by: mehitabel | February 13, 2008 2:35 PM

They don't just find alcohol when they go off to college - there's plenty enough to go around in high school. Family member, lawyer in DC, found his youngest girl and friends laughing over pictures of high school party where they were all smoking dope and drinking with the parents. Dad printed out the pictures, and handed them to the parents with his card. Gave them a good scare.

Posted by: rjones | February 13, 2008 2:35 PM

"destiny - there are no exceptions...see with NC statute citations:According to North Carolina General Statute (NCSG) 18B-302 (a), as a parent/guardian, you cannot legally
give alcohol to any child, including your own, who is under the age of 21, even in your own residence, even
with another parent's permission, no matter what the circumstance.

Posted by: dotted_1 | February 13, 2008 11:52 AM"

So I take it you don't have any practicing Jews in North Carolina?

Posted by: destinysmom | February 13, 2008 02:16 PM

Sure there are - they just break the law at every Passover Seder, etc.

Posted by: mom_of_1 | February 13, 2008 2:36 PM

Oh, yes, I forgot one important thing. There is a Surgeon General's Call to Action on Underage Drinking, issued last year. You can find it at

While teaching good decision making is important, of course, it's also important to consider that the judgment part of the brain isn't fully developed until age 25--so it's not just your success or failure in teaching decision making skills that makes a difference. It's much more complicated than that--and most importantly it's about the substance. To paraphrase something that I've heard AAers say, you don't control alcohol, it controls you. Once you drink it, your ability to make good decisions diminishes, no matter how good the drinker's parents are and no matter smart and "mature" a drinker, teen or otherwise, might seem or be.

Posted by: cbalexander | February 13, 2008 2:37 PM

So much toilet information, if/when I go to Japan I will be prepared.

Forgot to add that we were looking for free restrooms, like Dotted stated, stiffing the the little old lady (who looked like she could kick my butt, regardless of what country I was in) was never an option to me. I was young though, now I might actually stiff her. Either pay or find a free potty was the way - you know the rest.

Posted by: cmac | February 13, 2008 2:37 PM

cbalexander, wow, are we so far apart on this issue.

In my opinion wine is one of life's great pleasures - not drinking it to get drunk or in excess but for its taste and yes, some of the warm feel (although if there were a really good alcohol-free wine produced, I'd be pretty happy about it.)

I love the ceremony of opening a bottle of wine, sharing it at the table, pairing it with the food. Hurrah. I completely intend to introduce my son to it in small, appropriate stages - a little taste, then a very small amount, then a glass on special occasions.

My parents did that with me, along with (eventually) a few special spirits. They did it both to share the experience, but also because with 3/4 alcoholic grandparents, they really wanted to demystify "drinking" and demonstrate how it could be enjoyed responsibly.

They also talked a lot about the difference between having a drink and getting drunk, proper behaviour (no drinking & driving, no using drunkenness as an excuse for bad behaviour, etc.)

When I got to university there was a LOT of drinking. It didn't have much appeal for me. I had already developed a palate for decent wine and beer and wasn't into just chugging it down (or worse the coolers) to get to the "good part."

I know that's anecdotal but I think treating alcoholism and heavy drinking as if it's the same as a glass of wine with dinner once or twice a week is a shame, and invites kids to think in very black and white terms.

All that said, I would not supply underage kids with alcohol, even though in my opinion the 21 year old cut off is really ridiculous.

Posted by: shandra_lemarath | February 13, 2008 2:38 PM

To cbalexander: See my post at 12:41 PM for a tragic example proving your points.

Posted by: mehitabel | February 13, 2008 2:40 PM

Fred and ArmyBrat, I thought that military personnel could drink on post if they were 18 or older. Is that not true? Was it ever true, or am I totally misinformed? My husband was in the Army 1969-1971, and he got drafted at age 23, so it's been a while since I've had any direct contact with active duty people. Thanks!

Posted by: lsturt | February 13, 2008 2:42 PM

"so it's not just your success or failure in teaching decision making skills that makes a difference."

That's a really good point, and I did not mean to imply in my earlier post that whether your children drink irresponsibly or not in college is an acid test for how good your parenting is. My point, similar to MN's, is that I think it's a mistake to believe that your influence is limited to the moments you are in physical proximity with your children, or to assume that your influence cannot reach things like underage drinking whether your child is at home or at school. If you think of your role primarily as damage control, I think you're selling yourself and your kids short.

Posted by: LizaBean | February 13, 2008 2:44 PM

Mehitabel, I don't see how a drunk teenager DRIVER proves that drinking a glass of wine with dinner at home with your parents (who are at that time able to ensure you don't drive) proves that you can't teach responsible drinking.

Posted by: shandra_lemarath | February 13, 2008 2:46 PM

Shandra, I was concurring with cbalexander, who posted at 2:37 PM: "...the judgment part of the brain isn't fully developed until age 25--so it's not just your success or failure in teaching decision making skills that makes a difference. It's much more complicated than that--and most importantly it's about the substance. To paraphrase something that I've heard AAers say, you don't control alcohol, it controls you. Once you drink it, your ability to make good decisions diminishes, no matter how good the drinker's parents are and no matter smart and "mature" a drinker, teen or otherwise, might seem or be."

Posted by: mehitabel | February 13, 2008 2:49 PM

Mom of 1

NC law does provide an exemption for "...8) The possession and use of unfortified wine or fortified wine for sacramental purpose by any organized church or ordained minister, including in public school buildings when the use of those buildings is approved by the local school board..." (18B-103) So Catholic and Episcopal mass and the Seder may be enjoyed legally.

As for the military, when I was in way back in the early 70's, you could drink legally when you were 18 on a military post even if you were in a dry state. I know that this changed to 21 a few years after that. I really don't know the current status and AF dau is over 21 now. (not that that ever stopped a military member from finding a stray beer or two!)

Posted by: Fred | February 13, 2008 2:59 PM

I only skimmed the posts but agree that there's no way I'd serve alcohol to other peoples' kids. I never thought about it much until now but I suppose I'd let my kids have a sip or a glass of wine or something when they're college age, but not before that. Who knows--maybe I'll feel differently when I actually am faced with it (my oldest is almost 12).

The thing that always gets me about these discussions is how parents seem to think there's some magic formula for making sure their kids don't do drugs, drink, drive drunk, have sex, etc. If you don't let them drink they'll sneak. If you do let them drink they'll think it's no big deal and never want it. If you're overprotective they'll rebel; if you're permissive they'll innately know how to act and will never make a bad choice.

So now are we supposed to have them invite their boy or girlfriends (or both?) over and provide condoms and ambient lighting so they can experiment with sex in a safe atmosphere? Are we supposed to sit on the sidelines and coach them, telling them that this position or that is safer than another? Or tell ourselves that if we let them have sex at home they'll decide it's no big deal and never want to do it again?

The only absolute in this case is the fact that serving alcohol to minors is illegal. Beyond that I think we're kidding ourselves if we think we have the power to make sure our kids grow up to be perfect in every way and then blame ourselves when they make a mistake or don't turn out the exact way we were sure we were molding them.

Posted by: maggielmcg | February 13, 2008 3:01 PM

I'd do the party, if it were small and I knew the friends involved very well. But I'm a risk taker.

I am also in agreement with Fred and always so surprised that people choose to raise people and take on the responsibility of teaching them how to operate responsibly and maturely in the adult world- and then just say NO NO NO NO NO! when it comes to things like....alcohol, sex, communicating to your partner, taxes

Since when did NO NO NO NO NO NO NO! become solid teaching and examle leading?

Posted by: EmeraldEAD | February 13, 2008 3:03 PM

Hey Fred, You're quite the expert on this topic ;-))))) How's Frieda doing? Are her computer-scrolling skills developing nicely? Do keep us posted.

Posted by: mehitabel | February 13, 2008 3:04 PM

leslie4 - In answer to your question about exposing your children to alcohol instead of waiting for them to experience it in college, I think the two experiences are so different that they really don't correlate. Drinking a beer at home while watching football with Dad, or having a glass of wine on Christmas eve is VERY different than going to a keg party. You aren't going to be showing them what happens when they over-drink (hangovers, passing out, promiscuity, etc). Or at least I hope not. So letting them drink at home won't do any more than talking to them about alcohol and raising them to be responsible enough to decide for themselves would.

Posted by: jjtwo | February 13, 2008 3:06 PM

Thanks, Fred. I did not realize that the rules had changed, but I also appreciate knowing that my memory is not totally wrong about drinking on post. :)

Posted by: lsturt | February 13, 2008 3:23 PM

(I am not a lawyer but play one on a blog?)

Oh, I was quite the expert on drinking, esp. while I was in Viet Nam. In fact, I never met such a high concentration of subject matter experts in any other place in my life!

I think that Frieda's computer skills have "leveled off" at this point and will not be further developed. But she is recovering fine.

And, jjtwo, I do disagree about the effect of a controlled amount of partaking will do. Certainly, it does demystify and teach the habit of moderation... especially if the child sees that as modeled by his parents.

Posted by: Fred | February 13, 2008 3:28 PM

jjtwo - i respectfully disagree. i echo another poster who reported on the sheltered kids, who'd never had a beer before freshman year, hitting campus and getting into pretty dangerous, totally drunken states at the first few parties. i don't want that to be my kid. it's like putting your kid in a car and saying "go'll figure it out...i've given you my good values." don't know who is more naive in this case -- the kid or the parents!

Posted by: leslie4 | February 13, 2008 4:00 PM

Shandra, I didn't say nor do I believe that adult drinking in moderation and teenage drinking are the same. Adult drinking in moderation is good modeling for teens. Many people enjoy wine, especially with meals, and in moderation, alcohol can have some health benefits. But enjoyment of wine as an adult and medical research on underage drinking and brain development aren't counter arguments.

Research has shown that adults would have to drink twice as much as teens to have the same brain impacts. We're simply not the same at 30 that we are at 15,18 and even 20.

Posted by: cbalexander | February 13, 2008 4:01 PM

Leslie, one poster's anecdote is not equal to the solid scientific research cited by cbalexander.

Posted by: mehitabel | February 13, 2008 4:09 PM

but i think we cannot expect people to wait to drink until their brains are mature. it just doesn't work that way. kids want to experiment and to rebel. if you give them too much discipline, they often rebel harder. i'd rather have kids experimenting and rebelling in their teen years instead of their 20s -- when they can do more damage.

Posted by: leslie4 | February 13, 2008 4:11 PM

leslie4 - I'll have to disagree with you again on this one! I think those sheltered kids that go crazy on campus are those whose parents didn't give them any freedom as teens - freedom to go out with friends, freedom to drive themselves places, freedom to make their own decisions. Not those whose parents didn't share their liquor with them.

I'm certainly not an expert, but in my experience with my 16 and 21 year old kids, that's what I saw.

Posted by: jjtwo | February 13, 2008 4:15 PM

When it comes to teenagers (and even younger kids), I challenge as well MN's assertion that "Drinking, like smoking cigarettes or weed, overeating, failing to exercise, or training for a marathon, is a choice."

As cbalexander notes, research has shown that the brains of kids that young are not necessarily sufficiently developed to make sound decisions if they start using those substances -- and that doesn't even begin to consider factors like peer pressure, advertising (in the case of tobacco companies, who try to claim they're not advertising to children -- yeah, right), role models in the media and entertainment, etc. And once a kid is addicted to one of those substances, brain chemistry can make it hard to break the habit.

Posted by: mehitabel | February 13, 2008 4:16 PM

I too don't post often, but am a regular "On Balance" reader. I am a parent and Trustee at an independent, college prep school. The school for some time has had a Trustee set policy of zero tolerance regarding alcohol/drugs on campus - get caught once and you're dismissed from the school. Last year, 5 upper school students were caught with beer on campus during the school day. 2-3 had actually taken a drink; others had taken a can but not imbibed (peer pressure). But all were dismissed under the zero tolerance policy.

That has created quite a debate in our school community. Some feel the policy on such an important issue of no alcohol/drugs on campus is necessary to protect the greater good and the integrity of our educational process. Others feel compassion is part of education and should be given to 1st offenders and those of less culpability. Some on both sides of the issue are concerned that it is too important to leave discretion to the educators who can understandably have soft hearts, and discretion will err on the side of giving a comparative slap on the wrist to offenders to the detriment of all the kids who obey the rules (and who may take a cynical lesson from a some slap on the wrist to an offender).

I would appreciate any views or experiences with alcohol/drug policies at other schools (particularly, independent schools), and views as parents on the pro's/con's of a zero tolerance policy at a school. Many thanks.

Posted by: JustADad | February 13, 2008 4:17 PM

"NC law does provide an exemption for '...8) The possession and use of unfortified wine or fortified wine for sacramental purpose by any organized church or ordained minister, including in public school buildings when the use of those buildings is approved by the local school board...' (18B-103) So Catholic and Episcopal mass and the Seder may be enjoyed legally."

Posted by: Fred | February 13, 2008 02:59 PM

I am not a North Carolina lawyer, so I can follow Fred's construction of §18B-103 only as far as the "Catholic and Episcopal mass." As for the Seder, it looks questionable. For instance, the Duke Jewish Law Students Association ("JLSA"), according to the Duke Law School web site, "offers educational events, such as lunch and learns with local rabbis, and lectures, seminars and religious programming, such as the Graduate Student Shabbat, Break-fast and Passover Seder." Bring one of Duke's ordained "local rabbis" to the Graduate Student Passover Seder, and he can legally serve wine to any students who happen to be under 21, even though JLSA may not qualify as an "organized church" under §18B-103. But what about an ordinary home Passover celebration without a rabbi or rabbette in the family? Can they be prosecuted? The First Amendment is no protection after Employment Division v. Smith, but are there any North Carolina cases on point?

Posted by: MattInAberdeen | February 13, 2008 4:17 PM

I guess my feeling is that there isn't that many "sheltered" kids out there from what I've seen - and I am talking about good kids that go on to excellent schools, do well, and have good parents. I frankly don't know any (not saying that all drink, many don't - but they've all thought about it). Best training is observing parents who don't drink irresponsibly or illegally.

Posted by: rjones | February 13, 2008 4:18 PM

With regard to the point about preparing the kids for when they go away to college, I have seen students who had strict upbringings go wild once they're on their own, but I've also seen students who weren't strictly brought up go wild. I'm not sure it's easily predictable.

Also, alcohol won't be the only thing offered in college. If they haven't faced them already in high school, they're going to encounter pot, cocaine, ecstasy, etc., and the thought of initiating one's kids to those items in reasonable amounts at home seems a bit outlandish. Ultimately, I think there's always a limit to how much a kid can be prepared, beyond a solid foundation of good judgment.

Posted by: tomtildrum | February 13, 2008 4:20 PM

"As cbalexander notes, research has shown that the brains of kids that young are not necessarily sufficiently developed to make sound decisions"

That doesn't mean that drinking is not a choice. It means that kids need extra guidance in making that choice in particular as well as choices generally.

Posted by: LizaBean | February 13, 2008 4:20 PM

Oh please, Leslie (rolls eyes).

Posted by: mehitabel | February 13, 2008 4:20 PM

LizaBean, this is true. It's not simple, but guidance can include discussing the biochemical effects on the brain, liver, etc.

Posted by: mehitabel | February 13, 2008 4:22 PM

JustADad- this might sound odd coming from someone who is ok with teens drinking and supporting alcohol education, but I stand by the zero tolerance policy.

There are a gazillion other places they could have gone to enjoy alcohol, that night or their whole lives. They entered the institution and agreed to those rules.

If they wanted to enjoy a looser set of rules, they should have gone somewhere or worked BEFORE getting caught to change it.

Posted by: EmeraldEAD | February 13, 2008 4:30 PM

Mehitabel, absolutely. That's why I was surprised to see you arguing against MN's point that it is a choice, as she was arguing against Leslie's statement that drinking is invetible, and her point was how important it is to properly educate and discuss with our kids the real impacts of drinking.

Posted by: LizaBean | February 13, 2008 4:30 PM

Just finished talking with AF dau.

She tells me that in the AF, you have to be 21 to drink on any stateside base.

Overseas, 18 is the legal age on base.

I would expect that this would be true for any other branch of the service.

As I say, when I was in, 18 was the age both stateside and overseas.

But this is a very moot point for me!

Posted by: Fred | February 13, 2008 4:42 PM

"i'd rather have kids experimenting and rebelling in their teen years instead of their 20s -- when they can do more damage."

I am totally confused by this sentiment. Kids in their teens are almost universally immature and make poor decisions. Giving a kid that age alcohol just seems like a big risk and likely to do more damage than waiting until their 20s, when most have matured beyond thinking that funneling a Dacqueri is "cool."

I was one of those sheltered kids y'all have been discussing. I didn't drink in high school. My parent's model was moderation. An occasional glass of wine with dinner or beer or mixed drink at a party. I never saw drunken family members and I never attended parties with alcohol as a teen. My parents kept a very tight rein on me.

When I went to college, I still didn't drink until my senior year. The wild party scene did not interest me even a little bit. Once I started drinking (a few months shy of my 21st birthday), I followed my parent's model of moderation. I guess I'd matured enough by then to know that getting drunk was stupid. Then again, I never cared about fitting in with the cool crowd, even when I was a teen.

I'm not trying to be self-righteous here. But I am proof that it's certainly possible to instill your child with values and good judgment and have that impact last even when the parent isn't around breathing down the kid's neck. What are you teaching your children about "not following the crowd" and "doing what's right" when you show that that you expect them to do just that -- follow the crowd? A poor example such as this will trickle down to issues other than alcohol. Kids are smart -- they can smell hypocrisy a mile away.

Posted by: vegasmom89109 | February 13, 2008 4:43 PM

LizaBean, MN's point re teenagers making choices made it sound as though that were all there is to it, when there's not. There are peer pressure, advertising, media images, etc. Indeed, 90% of all smokers start by age 20, i.e., as teenagers or even younger, when they may not be fully able to make the wise decision on their own (especially if their parents smoke, drink to excess, do drugs, etc.). And since MN might ask (but I won't be around to reply later today), my source is, inter alii, Dr. David Kessler, former head of the FDA, who characterizes tobacco products as drug-delivery devices for nicotine etc.

Posted by: mehitabel | February 13, 2008 4:56 PM

But Mehitabel, raising children is all about teaching them how to make choices. We are none of us mindless, spineless vessels waiting to be filled by the cr@p the media puts out there. You can pull every advertisement for alcohol and tobacco, ban the products in movies and on television, and you'll still have a problem with teen drinking and smoking.

The answer is to talk to your kids and teach them how to be discerning. Be a parent. Have rules and stick to them. And let your kids grow up, little by little. Don't shelter them excessively then throw them out to the "real world," but also don't expect them to be able to make adult decisions when they're 16. If you let the rope out gradually and be a constant presence of both uncondintional love and parental structure, hopefully you'll send a responsible adult out into the world. And being responsible means learning to resist peer pressure and media hype and make good choices. And how to deal with/repair the bad ones.

Posted by: vegasmom89109 | February 13, 2008 5:07 PM

"There are peer pressure, advertising, media images, etc. Indeed, 90% of all smokers start by age 20, i.e., as teenagers or even younger, when they may not be fully able to make the wise decision on their own (especially if their parents smoke, drink to excess, do drugs, etc.)."

No kidding, Mehitabel! Nobody is disputing that. But what on earth is to be gained by saying it is not a choice? Accepting that it is inevitable that all kids will drink and end up in tragic accidents like the one you described earlier today? That is, to me, both absurd and entirely contrary to your other points.

Teaching kids to make choices is what parents do, and we face all of the obstacles to wise choices that you mention with every issue, not just drinking. That's all the more reason our job is important, not reason to give up and say they have no choice but to engage in self-destructive behaviors.

Posted by: LizaBean | February 13, 2008 5:18 PM

Leslie and jjtwo,
I think both of you are right. I think that any kind of parental rigidity can backfire, so a parent who says no drinking under my roof, ever, while you are underage, might well result in some dumb, rebellious, drinking once the kid leaves home. I think this kind of rigidity often goes hand and hand with other kinds of inflexible, controlling behaviors in parents (although not necessarily so). And I think the kids from such backgrounds do often end up doing really reckless things once they see freedom from parental control. I had a friend in high school whose parents monitored her closesly, made sure she did not drink, knew who her friends were, etc. And she was a great kid, got good grades, got into every single college she applied to, and gave them no cause to worry. Except that once she went to college, she began engaging in really risky behavior with the boys she dated. In a nutshell, she began sleeping with anyone who asked. I really think she did this in rebellion of her very controlling mother, who never had an inkling of what was going on, because she would have had a cow.

My parents were less controlling, but still knew generally what I was up to. I was allowed to have some wine with dinner, to have my boyfriend over (as long as we were never in my room alone) and to go out with friends, and I never thought my mother would freak out over the things I did, even if she wasn't thrilled about them. So I never felt the need to go out and prove anything to anyone. I think that you can quell rebellion by being a little flexible about rules, and that for some people, that might mean allowing your kids to drink at home, under your supervision, if that is what they want and if you feel comfortable with it. It just depends on the parents. I always figure that while the amateurs might know the rules, the experts will know the exceptions too, and that each parent needs to decide this based on their particular child, family, and values.

Posted by: emily111 | February 13, 2008 5:36 PM

Emily111 - thanks, you make some good points. I think that what I am trying to say, but not saying very well, is that Leslie's reason for allowing her kids to drink at home is to teach them how to drink responsibly. And I don't think that that, in itself, will accomplish what she thinks it will. And I don't think that the only way to teach a kid to drink responsibly is to allow them to drink at home.

I think you can end up with a young adult that handles alcohol properly with either approach, what is far more important is to teach them to handle responsibility, to help them to be independent, to teach them compassion for others and to help them develop a strong sense of self. That is what will help them deal with the pressures of being on their own. That and seeing a parent that has those same characteristics (which is probably the most important thing of all).

Posted by: jjtwo | February 13, 2008 5:57 PM

Actually, mehitabel, you've only proved my point. Once one understands the psychology of addiction and addictive substances, one appreciates that adults do their children no favors by acting as though partaking of potentially addicting substances is inevitable. Consuming alcohol is a choice. As is sex and rock and roll. Once we start sending the message to our kids that, of course, they will do X, Y, and Z, we leave them feeling powerless in this world at a time when they are determining whom they are. What a shame.

Talk honestly, listen more than you talk, and don't assume they necessarily will, or won't, engage in any particular behavior.

Posted by: mn.188 | February 13, 2008 5:57 PM

Statewide Underage Drinking Ring Broken Up

Raleigh (Anon News Service)

State authorities announced today that they broke up a state wide underage drinking ring. The ring has several unusual aspects according to Sergeant Amy Casa de la Vino. "The under age drinking seemed to be confined to Friday nights and more disturbingly the parents were present in most cases." Another unusual characteristic of this case was the alcohol involved.

"In all cases, only wine was involved." stated Sgt. de la Vino. "And it was not your typical wine we see teens with. Not one bottle of Thunderbird or Mad Dog. But Manischewitz and Palwin."

Authorities believe that this ring has crossed state lines and the state is coordinating with neighboring states.

"We think this is the tip of the proverbial iceberg." added Sgt de la Vino.

Posted by: fred | February 13, 2008 7:02 PM

cbalexander and mehitabel - I just don't agree that alcohol is some overriding evil to be kept away from teenagers. I grew up partly in Quebec where kids are served (nudge nudge wink wink) at 16. I don't think they are all running around under the control of alcohol and poorly developed brain cells and rotting livers.

I do agree that you can't "alcohol proof" your kids entirely no matter what you do.

Posted by: shandra_lemarath | February 13, 2008 8:24 PM

Underage drinking is illegal, so it is not ok to provide alcohol to your child--even a glass or a beer in your home when they are in for the night.

We have blurred the lines between everything in a constant quest to be our children's friends rather than their parents.

Posted by: Hunsinger2000 | February 14, 2008 6:28 AM

Actually Hunsinger in some states it is legal to serve your own child in your own home:

Posted by: shandra_lemarath | February 14, 2008 8:05 AM

I know that this is a touchy subject and everyone is going to have different opinions. But from someone who grew up in a home without any alcohol (I never saw my mother drink any type of alcoholic beverage until I was in college) - I think it is important to expose YOUR OWN children to alcohol. I was never exposed, went to college and ended up in some very dangerous situations drinking to extremes. Not all kids will go to college and drink, I know this, but without any experience or understanding - I just thought - this is what you do in college, and drank - a lot. I am lucky that I was still a motivated student, so I didnt flunk out like other freshman I knew, but when I think back - I am terrified. I dont have kids, or pretend to understand what it is like being a parent - but that is just my experience. I think that if alcohol had not been so exotic - I could have handled things a little more responsibly.

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Posted by: MothersWisdom | February 15, 2008 7:28 PM

I have a 17 year old, and I absolutely agree with the mother. It's against the law for teens to drink, it doesn't help them, it's not necessary, and it's ridiculous for adults to encourage it.

Posted by: Alexandra | May 12, 2008 9:22 PM

I have a 17 year old, and I absolutely agree with the mother. It's against the law for teens to drink, it doesn't help them, it's not necessary, and it's ridiculous for adults to encourage it.

Posted by: Alexandra | May 12, 2008 9:22 PM

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