It’s not often I agree with the neo-prohibitionists but last month the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse (CASA) released the findings of their sixth annual Importance of Family Dinners survey. And guess what, kids who eat with their parents at family dinners are less likely to develop bad habits like binge drinking, smoking or drug use. It’s one of those studies I characterize as “duh studies,” because the results are so obvious. Do we really need a survey to tell us that being engaged with our children is better than being alienated from them? At any rate, Medical News Today, has the story of this year’s survey.
The first one was conducted in 2003, and based on their survey concluded that “teens who have dinner with their families five or more nights in a week are 32 percent likelier never to have tried cigarettes (86 percent vs. 65 percent), 45 percent likelier never to have tried alcohol (68 percent vs. 47 percent), and 24 percent likelier never to have smoked pot (88 percent vs. 71 percent). This also led to CASA creating a holiday, Family Day — A Day to Eat Dinner with Your Children (September 27) and it’s one that I support and list on my calendar database of holidays.
But here’s my one quibble and where we part company — it’s always something, right? — these same organizations that celebrate family are the same groups that also have pushed to make it illegal for parents to give their own children a taste of alcohol in the home, believing they know better. For example, California just added civil penalties to the criminal ones for giving alcohol to a minor in the home. In theory, I’m not allowed to teach my own children about alcohol when I, as their parent, believe it’s appropriate. The best I can do is model responsible behavior by my example of drinking in moderation and trying to cast doubt on the propaganda they’ve been receiving at school literally since kindergarten that’s mandated by the state and with “learning” materials from MADD.
These same groups also have pressured state alcohol regulators to not allow kids at beer festivals, though wine tastings are usually just fine. They claim to love family and want kids to not engage in what they believe to be dangerous behaviors, at least while they’re minors, but at the same time want to deny parents the tools and resources to educate their own children about those dangers. They don’t want kids even seeing adults drink, even though it’s legal for adults to do so and it would allow children to see their parents drink responsibly, thus showing by example how the majority of Americans consume it. It would model good behavior and act as a balance to negative stereotypes, showing that drinking can be part of a healthy adult lifestyle. Showing both the positive and the negative stereotypes would teach kids they have a choice, that drinking doesn’t have to lead to destructive behaviors if done responsibly.
We already know what happens when they’re not permitted to learn that lesson. They go off to college or out in the world and, on their own for the first time, binge drink or worse. And who can blame them? If they’ve seen no positive drinking examples and only know the propaganda they’ve been brainwashed with since elementary school, what else should we expect?
I agree that families should be engaged, that parents should be involved with their kids and especially their teenagers. But as long as parents are handicapped by misguided anti-alcohol advocates who think “just say no” is a valid approach or think kindergarten is an appropriate age to begin teaching kids about drinking and driving, then nothing will change. Real change has to begin at home, with the family, and that also has to include modeling positive behavior and freeing parents to make decisions about their own children.
I see the negative effects of the propaganda every time my six-year old daughter reminds me beer is a drug and I have to, yet again, explain to her that it’s okay for Daddy and other adults to drink it. Either they can’t be bothered to explain the difference between legal alcohol and drugs or she’s too young to grasp the concept. Either way, it’s not working. When Porter was her age, he came home from the “Red Ribbon Week” lectures chiding us for using cold medicine because it was a drug, and “all drugs are bad.” That’s the message he got. But that’s what happens when zealots are allowed to shape the policy and parents are cut out of the decision-making process for raising their own children.