From the time my oldest son was in kindergarten, the schools have taught him that drinking before the legal age of 21 is wrong and could lead to dangerous and life-altering consequences.
My husband and I have reinforced this message at home by being open to his questions and openly discussing the challenges of making the healthiest choices for himself, even if they differ from what his friends do.
Last year when Tom started high school, I was taken aback at how many friends and family members said everything he had been taught at school and home about underage drinking was useless. Of course he would drink before his 21st birthday. To assume or expect otherwise wasn’t only naive, it was harmful to him because I wasn’t preparing him for the “real world”
I found this mindset baffling and infuriating. How did we expect our kids to make a responsible choice if we were giving them such mixed messages? Don’t drink till you’re 21, but, wink wink, we know you will.
I decided to write an open letter to my son as a way to express my frustration with this mindset. I also wanted to make it crystal clear to our son what we expected of him. The piece, “An Open Letter To My Teenage Son About Drinking” was published on the Huffington Post, July 23, 2014.
The legal drinking age in this country is 21. Please know that dad and I will never allow you to have alcohol in our house or in our presence until you reach that age. Please also know that no good has ever come from a group of teenagers drinking. It’s a recipe for all kinds of disasters.
If you should choose to drink, you’ll not only be breaking the rules of our house, you’ll be breaking the law. If you get stopped for driving under the influence, or the police get called to a party where you’ve been drinking, you may be in a position where we can’t protect you.
Always call dad or me. ALWAYS.
No matter what you’ve done. Don’t ever follow up a bad choice with one that’s worse just because you’re afraid of disappointing us or making us angry.
Will we be happy? Of course not. But we would much rather get you and any friend who wants to get home safely, then get a call that you’re NEVER coming home.
Let me be clear that the fact that we love you and will stand by you doesn’t mean we’ll support you while you do things that you know aren’t good for you.
There will be people who will tell you that your parents are being unreasonable and totally unrealistic. Some may tell you that you’re a teenager and that it’s a rite of passage to get drunk. They may even regale you with stories of their own youthful mistakes.
Listen to your heart and trust your gut. Also know there’s nothing cool about waking up in your own vomit or having a DUI before you’re 18.
Your father and I are so proud of the man you’re becoming. We love you so much that we don’t care if you hate us. That’s our gift to you, we’re your parents not your friends.
I realized pretty quickly that I hit a nerve when a few hours after publication, the post generated thousands of shares and went viral.
Many people agreed with the stand we were taking and thanked me for expressing what they felt. I heard more than once about grown children who as teens made the decision not to drink until they were of age, and they never once regretted it or felt they missed out on anything.
I also had a few heartbreaking comments from parents who had lost children due to underage drinking and driving. They too supported my stand.
But I had a lot of comments vehemently disagreeing with me. Many people found my letter well intentioned but felt I was being completely unrealistic. I was called delusional and a prude who didn’t understand that hanging out with a bunch of buddies drinking beer as a teenager was a harmless rite of passage.
Some people said they felt sorry for our son, and that I was causing more trouble by not teaching him to drink responsibly at home. One young college student told me that it was the kids who had no experience with drinking who ended up getting alcohol poisoning or had more problems with addiction.
Then there were the people who felt that by my taking a stand, I was actually making drinking more appealing and that my son would be more likely to try it.
I didn’t expect the piece to go viral, but I wasn’t surprised by the comments – especially those that disagreed with me. All the concerns people cited are the same ones that I’ve heard my friends and family voice throughout the years.
I respect people’s right to disagree with me. I realize that for some people alcohol is an important part of their socializing and part of their memories of happy occasions.
But, the legal drinking age in this country is 21, and it when it was raised from 18, the rate of accidents and deaths related to alcohol declined.
Every day as parents, we enforce rules and set limits. Do your homework. Practice the piano. Clean your room. Brush your teeth. Why is this any different?
Do I think my letter is a magic pill that will ensure that my children never experiment with alcohol? Of course not. Only time will tell what our kids decide.
I do think we have a much better chance of our kids accepting the rules that society says is in their best interest if we expect them to be followed and don’t treat them as a joke.
Kathy Radigan is a writer, blogger, social media addict, mom to three, wife to one and owner of a possessed appliance. She posts a weekly essay each Sunday on her blog, My dishwasher's possessed! Her writing is featured on, The Huffington Post, Yahoo, What to Expect, BlogHer, Mamapedia, The Erma Bombeck Writers Workshop,and other publications. She is a contributing author in Sunshine After the Storm: a survival guide for the grieving mother and The HerStories Project: Women Explore the Joy, Pain and Power of Female Friendship. You can follow her on Facebook, Twitter and Google +
*The views and opinions expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Foundation for Advancing Alcohol Responsibility or any Foundation for Advancing Alcohol Responsibility member.*