If they're going to drink, they might as well learn to do it under my roof.
No, I'm not going to give my toddler a Bacardi Breeze in his sippy cup or let my 4-year-old run around in his Superhero cape with a fifth of Jack. I'm talking about the precarious age when alcohol curiosity hits.
Right now, my kids are perfectly satisfied with "mommy juice" or "grown up soda" as explanations for what adults have in their glasses at parties, but soon it will be the mystery to solve, the thing friends are whispering about.
Maybe it's at 12 years old, after baseball practice when the freckled kid with the older brother pulls a 6-pack of warm beer out of his bat bag. Or maybe it's at 14 when one of the "fast girls" (as my mom used to call teen girls who wore tight clothes, bright lipstick, and knew too much about boys) pulls out the flask she nabbed from her dad's stash.
Maybe your kid lasts all the way to college, when a depressed upper classman offers him free reign of his booze cabinet and his porn passwords in exchange for friendship.
Whenever that moment hits, I'll be waiting at home with a welcoming smile on my face and a cold beverage in hand, happy to indulge their interest and answer their questions.
It might seem like I'm encouraging them to drink. But by exposing my kids to booze early, I'm helping them solve the mystery of it (and the ensuing secrecy surrounding the American culture of disordered drinking among teens and 20-somethings.)
The National Institute of on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism estimates that last year, 599,000 students (ages 18-24) were involved in some sort of binge drinking incident: car crashes, drunk driving arrests, sexual assaults, and injuries. 696,000 were assaulted by another student who'd been drinking and roughly 97,000 were victims of alcohol-related sexual assault or date rape. I believe bringing those statistics down starts at home.
In the traditional American upbringing — particularly one with any kind of religious undertones — sex, drugs and alcohol are forbidden. In theory, this instruction is meant to be a deterrent to help warn of the dangers of drunkenness and debauchery by staying as far away from it as possible.
Sadly, it often has the opposite affect, and even worse, it produces teens who have to puke their guts out after an evening they wish they could forget, before they know a d*mn thing about alcohol.
Obviously, there's legal reasons for avoiding substances, and I will always demand my children follow the laws when not strictly under my supervision (I'll gladly take legal responsibility for my tipsy 20-year-old at a family dinner in his own house).
But there's this lingering 1950's, Leave it to Beaver mentality that says it's the parents' job to be the buzzkill, to hide anything that could be harmful to our children, and keep things like substances and shenanigans with the opposite sex under wraps as long as possible.
I take a different point of view: If something has the potential to be harmful to my children, I'd rather them learn about it before they go out on their own.
By making booze accessible with the very people who are making the rules, I'm offering a chance for my kids to learn and experiment in a safe environment — to help them create a healthy perspective on alcohol, one that might include good reasons for drinking, such as taste, celebration and culinary appreciation.
At dinner parties and casual get-togethers with the accountability of adults, they can learn about alcohol — that it's quite nice when enjoyed in its proper place. They can hear adults talk about their experiences and learn about the scary stuff that happens when alcohol is abused.
I don't want my kid's first exposure to be bright blue, served in a Solo cup, or binged upon with other teenagers in hiding, the music playing louder than the thoughts that are supposed to be guiding them.
I want to take away the element of surprise and replace it with a working knowledge and discretion that's easy to access. Isn't it my job to equip them the best I can before they no longer share my address?
I want them to know early on which beverages have high alcohol content, that you can never quite predict how or when shots will hit you if you slam them on a dare, and explain what it might look like in a girl's eyes when she's drank too much to speak for herself and needs her friends to take her home.
I want them to know about how alcohol can worsen a tense conversation, and heighten brewing emotions.
I want to tell them not to drink to drown sorrows or anger because you'll find it all again at the end of the bottle, albeit with the sloppy confidence of a WWF wrestler.
I want them to know, long before they ever experience the pressure of "a few more drinks" with friends, that being able to walk from a party to your car in no way guarantees your ability to operate it.
The way I see it is that they're in my house for, I don't know, 18 years, give or take. And then they're not. That's it. Once they're not, all things forbidden are suddenly accessible.
The less they know, the easier they're surprised, persuaded, even victimized. How are they to be suddenly responsible with something that was off-limits only months before?
There are plenty of areas where I will encourage them to just "figure it out," to do their own research, engage in the world themselves, and draw their own conclusions. Alcohol simply isn't one of them. The "field research" is inherently dangerous, and the path paved before them is wrought with reckless behavior, poor associations, and negative outcomes.
Most mainstream adults will tell you that partying and binge-drinking is a right of passage in your teens and twenties. I'd also venture to say most of these adults have regrets and things they wish didn't happen while they were inebriated.
As a parent with the privilege of influence, I'd like to help my kids avoid surprise and regrets and I think that an earlier education and awareness of alcohol's power is the first step to creating a generation of young adults that treats it with respect and enjoys it with responsibility.
I don't know why we trust kids with keys before we trust them with alcohol.
It seems to me there should be a working knowledge of both in order to understand how one so severely affects the other.
"They'll get their education," you say? Sure, someone is going to educate my kids.
It could be the freckled-faced boy at batting practice, the slut with the flask, or a depressed upper-classmen with developing addictions and the need to be liked. It could even be the cold, hard pavement on the far side of a black out.
Personally, I'd prefer our living room.