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Blaming Parents

The Los Angeles Times reported recently on a study by the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse (CASA) at Columbia University. It’s the 13th year of the National Survey of American Attitudes on Substance Abuse. For the first time, teens remarked that prescription drugs were easier to obtain than beer, putting quite a hole in the neo-prohibitionist position that beer is easy for kids to get their hands on.

And as for their preference, a majority of teens said they preferred to drink “liquor mixed with cola or something sweet.” Only 16% liked beer, meaning it’s not quite the problem the neo-prohibitionists would have us believe, targeting beer far more often than liquor or wine. And if you polled them farther, I’m willing to bet a healthy percentage of that 16% prefer the sweet, low-hopped industrial light lagers that make up the majority of macro beers manufactured by the large beer companies, meaning that craft beer is hardly part of the problem.

That’s all assuming you accept the study’s methodology, which I find pretty difficult to swallow, especially when they use it to declare their most inflammatory assumption: that parents are to blame for teenage drinking by not setting a good enough example or by letting them out of their sight unsupervised. This is based on surveying 1,004 teenagers and only 312 of their parents, finding that almost half of teenagers surveyed go out in the evening to hang out with their friends. Parents said the number was more like 14%. That’s the big controversy, that those numbers don’t agree and therefore someone must be lying. Amazingly, it’s the parents who are singled out as the ones presumed to be lying, or at least clueless, yet in the 73-page report I can’t find any evidence why they chose to believe the teenagers and not their parents, except of course that it may be more in line with their agenda. But nevertheless, CASA arrogantly asserts:

“Every mother and father should look in the mirror and ask themselves if they are doing the parenting essential to help their child negotiate the difficult teen years free of tobacco, alcohol and drugs,” said Elizabeth Planet, CASA’s director of special projects.

CASA does single out what the call “Problem Parents” as being the ones who make it more likely their children will abuse alcohol and/or drugs. I assumed they meant parents who themselves had alcohol or drug problems, who effectively passed their own bad behavior on to their kids. I was wrong. To CASA, a problem parent is one who fails to do all of the following:

  1. Monitor their children’s leaving their home and hanging out on school nights (Monday through Thursday).
  2. Safeguard their dangerous and addictive prescription drugs, like painkillers and stimulants, from their children.
  3. Address the problem of drugs in their children’s school.
  4. Set good examples.

Two and four seem obvious, of course, but one and three seem like complete bullshit to me. Talk to almost any teacher these days and if they’re honest with you, they’ll tell you parents have become meddlesome and intrusive problems themselves, wanting special treatment for their kid and inserting themselves into every aspect of their kids’ education. This makes it harder for teachers to actually teach, making necessary discipline nearly impossible and independence on the part of their kids almost unachievable. Now CASA says they’re not doing enough to address the school’s supposed drug problem. Puh-leeze. Let the schools alone and maybe they’ll have the time to do their jobs.

But by far, the constant monitoring that they propose parents need to be doing, is what drives children to drink. Okay, they’d probably drink anyway, but it’s not helping. We’ve become a nation of overprotective paranoids, assuming every second our children are unobserved is a second he or she is in grave peril. I was far more able to roam on my own as a child. At ages five and six, I was bound to the block we lived on, but that was a pretty wide berth by today’s standards, including the front and backyards of over a dozen homes. I could easily evade my mother’s gaze had she even bothered to keep it on me. At seven, the alley and the block across the street opened up to me and by ten anywhere in the neighborhood — several acres at least — were my playground. That seems almost fantastic compared to today’s tethered society, where it’s not uncommon to find kids on an actual leash.

I read in article a couple of days ago about how Summer Camps are starting to institute “no cell phone policies,” not because the kids couldn’t do without them, but because parents couldn’t let go even for a week or two at camp. The article went on to quote several psychologists saying that what a terrible disservice we were doing to this generation by not allowing them to learn how to deal with adversity or grow to be independent persons who can take care of themselves. Yet this aberrant behavior of coddling children is exactly the kind of behavior that CASA is insisting we must do in order to keep our kids off of drugs and alcohol. As Joseph A. Califano, Jr., CASA’s chairman and president and former U.S. Secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare, states CASA’s position. “It is inexcusable that so many parents fail to appropriately monitor their children, fail to keep dangerous prescription drugs out of the reach of their children and tolerate drug infected schools.” By “appropriately monitor” it seems like he essentially means operate the family like a police state. I have but two words for Califano and Planet: fuck and you.

When I was a teenager, I went out most school nights, hanging out with my friends. And yes, sometimes those evenings involved alcohol, though in my case never drugs due to a deal I struck with my mother. But was that the horror CASA, the neo-prohibitionists and other anti-alcohol factions believe? I and virtually all of my friends did no lasting damage to our lives and learned through trial and error how to be independent adults. If we were under constant surveillance would be as self-reliant today? I doubt it. We had to learn how to fail in order to succeed. Why should we do any less for our own children? Is it possible that by letting my children out of my sight they might do something they shouldn’t? Up to a point, I certainly hope so, otherwise they might never grow into self-sufficient adults. Remember that old sappy saying that if you love something you have to set it free? I believe that to be just as true for raising children. At some point, you have to let them spread their wings and get a taste of being outside the nest.

I want to be clear before the next barrage of threatening e-mails and comments comes screaming in that I’m not advocating that we should openly encourage bad or dangerous behavior or even turn a blind eye to it if we’re aware of it. But kids need an environment where they can be by themselves in order to grow up. It can never happen under the constant parental scrutiny that certain elements of our society today seem to demand. In a perfect world, I’d be able to model responsible drinking in my home with my kids as participants and observers, but our world, sadly, is far from perfect. Too many self-righteous moralists stand ready to swoop in and separate me from my children should I have the temerity to raise them in a way with which they disagree. So I’m forced to follow someone else’s moral code as groups like CASA continue to fabricate the reasons why I can’t be trusted to follow my own conscience.

Sorry kids, you’re stuck at home every night so I can monitor your behavior until you turn 21, or until you go to college and learn to binge drink owing to my not being allowed to teach you responsible drinking while you were stuck at home. But don’t worry, however it turns out, it’s all my fault.


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