I have been working on a project with a number of collaborators to create an issue guide for communities to deliberate on the issue of childhood drinking. Our framework is in an early-draft state, but it is gettting better with each iteration. (By “better,” I mean that it will stimulate dialogue.)
In preparation for a recent review meeting, and as a bit of a lark, I used the amazing tool Xtranormal to create a video introducing the framework. The results may be of interest:
(Please remember that this is an initial draft that I am sharing just because I thought you might find it interesting. I will make the finished framework more widely available.)
Among 15 year olds who drink, one study shows that on average they binge drink twice a month. By age 15, half of the nation’s children and adolescents will have had a whole drink.
There is an emerging understanding that the negative effects of drinking on a child’s development may be greater than once thought.
Children today have to navigate many high risk situations. With respect to drinking, what may have been seen as harmless experimentation decades ago is no longer considered without risk. People who drink at a young age are at higher risk for alcoholism down the line.
The issue of childhood drinking does not have a single solution. It must be addressed by many different kinds of people, all through the community.
To make decisions, we need to look at our main concerns and examine possible solutions. Every option has advantages as well as drawbacks. How do we help young people grow up in an environment in which alcohol is widely available?
Option One: If we are going to make it so our children don’t drink, we will need to change their environment. This includes not only children’s surroundings, but also stronger enforcement of the laws.
This first option says that we should change structures throughout society to better keep children away from alcohol. We would increase school and community activities so there are fewer “idle spaces” in children’s days. We would also enforce laws against serving alcohol to children in the home, cracking down on adults who host parties where children drink.
But if we do this, it will involve tighter control over children’s day-to-day activities as well as more restrictions on adults’ behavior. Children will become even more scheduled than they already are. And parents may begin to face more legal consequences too.
Option Two: We need to help children through a difficult time in their development. Elementary and middle school can be difficult years for children. We need to provide resources, support, and information so all children can develop without turning to negative influences.
This second option says that we should create a better support system that focuses on wellness and healthy development for all children. We should help parents improve their parenting skills so they can provide the right balance of nurture and discipline. And we should teach children ways to avoid drinking and make other healthy decisions through substance abuse prevention programs and other ways.
But if we pursue this option, responsibility and decisions about healthy development will shift from parents to professionals and possibly conflict with parents’ values. Some parents will have to change their parenting styles. And, there are many programs and initiatives designed to provide life skills to children and their effectiveness is questionable.
Option Three: Some children have problems when it comes to alcohol and other issues. We need to find them as early as possible and help them. We should provide vulnerable children and their families with the support they need in order to recognize and deal with such problems.
If we’re serious about this option, then we’ll make sure there are early warning systems and effective intervention plans. We’d educate parents and families to look for signs of alcohol use and we would significantly increase the availability of treatment programs designed for adolescents.
But if we do all this, professionals will intrude in more families’ lives and more children will be identified as having problems. Many families will turn a blind eye towards childhood drinking because it is an uncomfortable topic. What’s more, Twelve Step alcohol treatment programs are already widespread and free. Special programs might just duplicate effort.
Thanks for reading!