I know I’m beating a dead horse, but I don’t like what MADD has become. Despite the good intentions of its founding, it has veered into neo-prohibitionism and often uses the cudgel of protecting kids in its propaganda. Over the weekend, MADD’s twitter feed sent out this missive:
When teens feel they have their parents’ approval to drink, they do it more. Power of Parents.
I’m not sure where that absurd bit of propaganda originated, because the link in the tweet takes you to their Power of Parents page, which is thick with propaganda for parents. The problem with the “power of parents,” is that according to every study I’ve ever seen, that by the time kids hit their teens, that power is at an all-time low. Teenagers are influenced very little by their parents during those years. It’s their peers that influence them the most, making any “power” rather illusory.
But just the idea that they’d drink more of their parents said it was okay seems so painfully obvious as to be meaningless. My own mother kept our basement refrigerator stocked with beer for me and my friends. She did that in exchange for my promise to not take drugs. It was a good deal, and I kept up my end of the bargain, and she knew where I was, who I was with and that I was safe, albeit enjoying a few beers. Most of my friends’ parents knew about it, too, and felt it was fine with them, too. Did we drink more? Absolutely. Did we all turn out to be reprobates and criminals. Not a one of us I’m still in touch with is anything but a model citizen with a good job, a family, and all the trappings. Of course, if my mother, who was a nurse, did that today, she’d probably be jailed.
And there’s the rub. Why shouldn’t it be parents who decide whether their kids should drink alcohol in the home. Why should the state dictate that? Not everyone matures at the same rate. As far as I’m concerned, it’s not age that determines when someone is “ready” to drink, but their level of maturity, their ability to handle the responsibility. You probably know someone who’s 30 that shouldn’t be allowed the keys to a car sober and an 18-year old that’s wise beyond their years. We choose an arbitrary age because it’s easier and we don’t have to think too much. We live in a paternal society, where the government makes many, many decisions about how we are to live that people used to make for themselves. It hasn’t made society much better, as far as I can tell. It’s just made us lazy and stupid, and many people have lost the ability to think for themselves.
MADD followed up the first tweet with this one.
Did you know that 74% of kids turn to their parents for guidance on drinking
Again, that stretches credulity. It certainly runs counter to my understanding of how teenagers operate, and flies in the face of my own experience, too. And, as usual, the factoid is not cited; there’s no source for it, but that’s pretty typical for MADD and the other neo-prohibitionists. They either make these things up wholesale or pay someone to do a study that gets the result they want so they can pretend they didn’t just make it up. Three out every four kids go to their parents for advice on drinking? Uh, huh. Sure they do.
But okay, let’s say that’s true. The “power of parents” suggested by MADD says that parents shouldn’t drink in front of them, because that would give them the idea it’s okay to drink alcohol. Pushed by neo-prohibitionist lobbying, many states have actually made it illegal for a parent to give their children under 21 a drink. But teaching our kids about alcohol is precisely what parents should be doing so that they don’t go off to college and go crazy, binge drinking and getting into all manner of trouble. Drinking in front of your children responsibly models the proper behavior you want them to emulate. My kids have my approval to drink, they just know they’re not allowed to until they’re old enough. By the time they’ve reached that age, they’ll be ready, because I’ll have taught them about it as best I can, without breaking the asinine laws we live under. That’s what parenting means. It isn’t just telling them “no,” “don’t do it,” or “lying to them about drinking,” as the neo-prohibitionists would have us do. That’s the real power of parents, in a world with alcohol in it, you have to engage your kids with alcohol, too, not just pretend it doesn’t exist until they turn 21 and are magically expected to know what to do next, with no education, experience or role models.