Just a sip: Would you allow your kids to taste alcohol?

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This post was sponsored by Responsibility.org in collaboration with the Talk Early campaign, an initiative to empower parents to talk with their kids about alcohol.

When I was 14 years old, I made a commitment not to drink in high school.

At the time, I wasn’t really going out on a limb. Alcohol was not a part of my life in any way. My upbringing was very conservative and religious. My parents didn’t drink and I was taught that drinking was always wrong, always.

My commitment not to drink was like deciding to remain a virgin even though I never dated, and never spent time around boys at all. At that age, my alcohol abstinence commitment was not that difficult.

Then I went to a New Year’s Eve party at a friend’s house. As the clock approached midnight and everyone prepared for the big countdown, this friend’s mom began handing out glasses of champagne. REAL alcohol. It was a small amount, it was supervised, and it was something special because it was New Year’s Eve. We were only to take a sip as we raised a toast to the new year.

Despite my no-alcohol pledge, I felt a tremendous amount of pressure to drink that champagne…so I did. I crossed a boundary.

Once that boundary was behind me, the distance between me and alcohol disappeared. From that day forward, I began drinking alcohol.. Despite how I’d been raised and despite what my parents had taught me about alcohol, I became a pretty regular high school drinker. (That’s going to be a hard conversation to have with my kids some day.)

It started because a trusted adult gave me alcohol and told me it was OK, just that once. I think of that New Year’s Eve every time I hear a parent talking about how responsible alcohol use begins at home, and that allowing kids “just a sip” is a good way to expose them to alcohol in a controlled, safe environment. After all, in 29 U.S. states it’s fully within the law for minors to drink in their home, under parental supervision.

That’s what happened with me, but it had the opposite effect: Rather than showing me the value of moderation or even turning me off of alcohol (“yuck, that’s gross”), it gave me a sense of it being no big deal. It opened the door and set me off on a path toward drinking that went way beyond a toast on New Year’s Eve. It led to me getting drunk. On purpose.

Sometimes drinking under parental supervision does more harm than good.

As I’ve mentioned before, alcohol is not a huge part of our adult lives these days, but it is occasionally present. Sometimes we drink around our kids. They see us practicing moderation. We talk about it a lot. But Mark and I have decided we don’t want to allow our kids to have alcohol at home before they are of legal age. Not under our supervision. Not even just a sip. Not even a sip of something we are sure they won’t like.

Why? Because it sends mixed messages. California is NOT a state where it’s within the law for parents to serve alcohol to their children at home. We have explicitly told them it’s against the law for them to drink. So if we were to offer our kids a sip, we would be doing something that they know is against the law. Their takeaway might be that it’s sometimes OK to break the law. That the rules don’t apply to them.

I don’t want to teach that to my kids. I don’t want them thinking they are above the law. I don’t want them to have a low view of authority. Morality is complicated, and ethical gray areas are something that adults learn to deal with. But as children and even early teens, I’d prefer that they see morality as right and wrong, period. That’s what their developing brains are best equipped to handle. I don’t want them to think we have to keep some laws, but it’s OK to ignore others. I want them to think, “This is what the law says, and we’re not going to break the law.”

The holidays are a time when families gather together and alcohol is served. Kids will find themselves next to a trusted adult—a grandfather or aunt—and maybe they’ll be offered a sip.

What will you say? Do you allow your kids to sip alcohol? Why or why not?

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Alcohol and honesty: What do I tell my kids about my past drinking?

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This post was sponsored by FAAR in collaboration with the Talk Early campaign, an initiative to empower parents to talk with their kids about alcohol.

How honest should we be with our kids?

That’s a question Mark and I are always asking ourselves. About the news. About our neighborhood or neighbors. About family situations. About certain questions we have about faith. We value honesty with each other and are trying to teach our kids that honesty is always the best choice. We want to be the kind of parents who will always talk with our kids about whatever subject comes up. We’re big fans of telling the truth.

But how MUCH of the truth? For example, if we get into a discussion about alcohol, how much do we tell the kids about our past drinking?

Both of us come from very religious families that didn’t drink. In my family, drinking at all was considered a sin. Both of us also come from families where there has been some alcohol dependency. We’re teaching our kids that drinking isn’t necessarily bad in itself. They’ve seen us drink alcohol on occasion, always in moderation. But we also make it clear that alcohol is only for adults—especially adults who approach it cautiously. We teach them that being drunk is a bad thing because it leads to bad decision-making.

Eventually, though, I have a feeling we will shield some of these questions: Have you ever been drunk? Did you ever drink before you were old enough?


The answer is yes. I was a high school drinker. The first time I ever drank alcohol, I got drunk to the point of throwing up. I hated it. Physically, I felt like I was about to die. Emotionally, I was embarrassed. I felt out of control, and that’s not a feeling I liked. That one experience scared me so much that I’ve been very careful about alcohol ever since. I don’t drink that much now because of that first time.

So I’ll tell my kids that story. I’ll disclose it because it’s relevant. I’ll tell them how it made me feel. I’ll tell them how sick I was. I’ll talk about hanging around the party crowd in high school, and what I observed from my friends who were always getting drunk. I’ll tell my kids about the bad decisions I saw my friends make—decisions about their sexuality or safety.

The same goes for Mark. He drank enough in high school to get drunk a time or two. He’ll talk to the kids about his negative experiences with alcohol, too.

We will be honest with them to the degree it’s necessary for the purpose of the conversation and their age level.

I’m appreciating the #talkearly campaign, because it’s helping me wade through the challenges of talking to kids about these kinds of issues. Communication is SO important to raising kids. And honesty is important to good communication.

How honest will you be about your own drinking if your kids ask?

Should parents tone down the drinking jokes on social media?

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This post was sponsored by FAAR in collaboration with the Talk Early campaign, an initiative to empower parents to talk with their kids about alcohol.

It was just one of those random, unplanned instagram posts. A sunny morning in early April. Our dining room table was buried beneath a year’s worth of receipts, forms, and other financial residue. The kids were at school. Mark and I were doing our taxes, and there was an open bottle of Kingfisher on the table. One of us had opened it. I’m not saying who.

My caption—which posted on instagram and then distributed to other social media channels like Facebook and Twitter—was this: “Doing taxes is a legit excuse for day drinking, right @markhowerton?”

Just a little harmless, alcohol-and-taxes-related humor, right?

But then I thought about this #TalkEarly campaign I’m a part of, and how we’ve been trying to broaden the conversation around kids and drinking. And I started filling convicted. Especially as I was reminded of this video from Haley Kilpatrick at the summit:

She makes a point that gave me a fleeting twinge of guilt, even though I’m neither a huge drinker nor one of those people who posts photos of every beverage I’ve ever consumed.

She asked “What messages are we sending our kids when we joke about drinking?”

My kids aren’t on instagram. They don’t get to scroll through my facebook feed. But someday they WILL have access to those things, and some of their friends are already on there. Some of my nieces and nephews are, too. What will they think if I’m telling them to make good choices about alcohol on a Monday and then on Tuesday they dig into my way-back instagram archive and find this “day drinking” pic?

Mixed messages, dangit.

My kids know I’m a lot of things. To them, I’m a mom. But in a separate realm, I’m also a blogger, a speaker, a professor. They know the mom part, but they’ve only had tiny, controlled glimpses of the other stuff. What happens when they ARE introduced to my online personality and discover that it’s not exactly identical to the image I’ve given them?

Haley says it straight in the above video: “You’re not who you say you are to me, and that angers me.”
The mixed messages I may be sending on social media about drinking might get a laugh or two out of my instagram followers or my friends on facebook, but what’s the potential impact it might have on my kids’ trust?

That’s something I need to think about, and that’s the key message behind #RefreshYourFunny, a hashtag campaign to get parents to rethink the easy, ubiquitous social media jokes we make about drinking.
Which we do. All the time.

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I’m not about to go all “think of THE CHILDREN” and scold anyone who posts a margarita photo on instagram or mentions happy hour on facebook. But I am going to be more mindful.
What conversations am I having with my kids about good choices?

What am I telling them about alcohol?
Does the “Mom-Me: during these conversations conflict with the “Online-Me” who occasionally uses alcohol to get a laugh?

Those questions are worth asking. Talk Early is holding a #RefreshYourFunny challenge to, at least for the next few weeks, stop joking about alcohol.

I’m gonna try it. FOR THE CHILDREN.
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Planting the seeds

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This post was sponsored by the Century Council in collaboration with the Talk Early campaign, an initiative to empower parents to talk with their kids about alcohol.

I have plenty of failings as a parent, as any reader of this blog knows.I fail at signing the homework folders. I am atrocious at meal planning. Laundry . . . oh boy. But one area where I feel like we are doing alright is creating an environment where we can talk to each other, open and honestly, about anything. This is a huge value for me, and it wasn’t always present in my family growing up. I regularly find myself in conversations with other people—parents, friends, fellow bloggers—who admit that they never really talked with their parents when they were young. Not as preteens, not as teens, and barely as young adults.

It was a different generation, of course, where Mom or Dad were more likely to give their kids a book about sex than have a talk about sex. Or where they just hoped the Very Special Episode about drinking on Growing Pains was enough to convince their kids to avoid alcohol. (Yes, the one where Carol’s cute boyfriend Matthew Perry DIED from internal bleeding after a drunk driving wreck. It was devastating, y’all.)

Alcohol is one of those things we’re beginning to discuss with our kids. We’re not having special family meetings or anything, but are being intentional about casually working it into conversations with our kids as they get old. That’s one reason I’m happy to partner with the #TalkEarly initiative—because I think talking to kids about things like alcohol now, before it’s a temptation, is so, so important. (The #TalkEarly campaign is sponsored by The Century Council, an organization of distillers who have joined forces to fight underage drinking and drunk driving.)

Drinking is not something we hide from the kids. They know we do it occasionally, they know too much of it can make you drunk and is dangerous, they know it’s addictive, and they know it’s against the law to drink before you’re legal.

How do they know these things? Because we talk about it. We look for teachable moments.

At the #TalkEarly summit in Washington, DC, author and counselor Julia V. Taylor discussed how adolescent brains develop, and one of the things she revealed was that children generally start finding their place in the social puzzle at eight years old. That’s the sweet spot for my older three kids, which means they are starting to figure out where they fit in among their peers—the peers who will help them define who they are and set the tone of their teenage experience. The peers who someday will tempt them to drink. Will my kids be confident enough about their place in the world to say no?

There’s one thing Taylor said that I just can’t get out of my head: “How girls and boys feel about themselves from a very early age is directly correlated with some of the decisions that they make.” She included some statistics about how messages about body image play into a child’s self esteem as well. Which means we are planting the seeds for that confidence right now . . . with the language we use, with the praise and affirmation we give, and with the time we spend talking intentionally around the dinner table. I hope it will help my kids make good decisions when they’re older. They’re still young, but we’re talking (in an age-appropriate way) about any number of issues: alcohol, body image, media consumption, bullying, racism, and more.

(I’ve mentioned this multiple times in the past, but if you don’t have the Table Talk box yet, then get it. I don’t know any better resource for facilitating family discussions.)

What about you? Have you talked to your kids about difficult subjects like body image? What about alcohol ? What are some things we can be doing now so they’ll make good decisions later?

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