Q: How important is it to educate my teens about drinking?
A: Your question has new significance in today's world of college drinking.
Because college drinking has become a high-risk activity, it has become even more important, early on, to pay attention to your own family's attitudes toward partying and alcohol. You want your kids to be well armed with knowledge and factual information well before they enter high school.
To backtrack a bit, historically in college, drinking was a social activity in which kids got together to enjoy a drink with each other. Today, drinking has become a competitive activity, and the goal is to "get hammered" or "drink someone under the table." Often, the games are played until the players are so drunk that they are physically or mentally impaired.
Guess which groups are at highest risk? Athletes and Greeks. What these groups have in common is their competitive and achievement-oriented outlooks. A Harvard School of Public Health study in 2003 showed athletes at higher risk for excessive drinking than nonsports fans.
Alcohol ads and televised sporting events show drinking in a competitive light. Even back in the 1950s and '60s, almost all daring stunts in college were alcohol driven. In hindsight, the behaviors have a pathetic quality - for example, panty raids. Fast-forward to today's riots and punches thrown when fans don't like the calls - also pathetic, immature and potentially dangerous behaviors.
KEY: Pushing the limits is a chosen lifestyle today. We see it in the best sense in a Lance Armstrong and in the worst sense in too much alcohol. In our society, competition and achievement are rewarded every day.
KEY: It is time to change our cultural outlook on drinking. "AGB Priorities" (Winter 2005) states that high-risk drinking is an "epidemic-level, public health issue with which our campuses must deal." The publication also refers to a 2003 National Academy of Sciences report that alcohol kills 6.5 times as many people in the United States as all illicit drugs combined.
KEY: Alcohol education begins at home. Talk about the pathetic behavior of relatives and friends when their behaviors go over the edge. Talk about the accidents in the news in which alcohol was involved. Give your kids an out ("My parents will kill me if I take a drink") when friends pressure them to drink (yes, it does happen in middle school). They need to practice saying no.
Judith Duque is a licensed marriage and family therapist in private practice in Mountain View. Contact her at jsduque@ pacbell.net or 941-1000.