'Is a drink at home okay for teens?'

Anonymous asks

Q:  I am not in favour of underage drinking, even if it is in a ‘controlled’ environment. However, my husband is a drinker and I am not. He has older children, who shared beers with him at the age of 16 or so. Now, our son is 14 and seems to think the same will apply to him.

My usual explanation of why he cannot do what the other children do sometimes, is that I am his mother and they have a different mother, and we operate and parent differently.

What is the best option here, as his dad does not see the issue of a beer at the age of 16?

Psychologist Megan de Beyer answers

A:  Your situation is not an unusual one. Dads often have a stuck old view about drinking and mums try and bring in fresh information about boys and drink.

Normally we parent as we have been parented OR tend to have the attitude: what worked for one will work for all. This is not conscious parenting since we need to view our sons’ individual personality and temperament first.

It is also important to make informed decisions. In the past we did not have all the brain research we have now because of MRI scanning. We know for sure that drinking alcohol is destructive for a young brain and it also sets up very bad habits at the time the brain is 'sensitized' to lay down habits (myelination).

Here is some information you can share with your husband that may help him see things from another perspective.

The brain is going through its most important growth - the prefrontal cortex - the seat of higher intelligences. If a boy starts drinking at around 15 or 16 this can hinder working memory, concentration skills and analytical thought. He will also hinder his social skills, which he is busy learning with his new outbound activities. Research has shown a significant increase in alcoholism in adulthood amongst those who started drinking from 15.

In saying all this: if you completely trust your boy to only ever have a drink with his dad and not carry this habit elsewhere (impossible task), then it seems that an odd beer every now and then from the age of 16 should not harm the brain. But know that it still forms drinking habits! This is against the law if it happens outside your home and that if it includes a friend under 18 even in your home it is a criminal offence.

We have a massive alcohol problem amongst our youth and research has proven all the dangers of underage drinking. I do not understand why any parent would want to promote or train a child to drink. ‘Being a man’ has got to be separated from drinking alcohol. Can't the boy spend a more productive and worthwhile activity with his dad that also makes him feel that he's standing amongst men? Somehow society needs to drop the idea that being a man means you can ‘hold your drink’.

Megan de Beyer is a Cape Town-based psychologist who runs parenting workshops at schools and is an expert on teen development.

Would you allow teens to drink alcohol at home?
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