Monday, June 08, 2009

Leading by Example: Teens and Alcohol

The other day I did something that I guess could be considered controversial. At the time, I didn't even think about it. Didn't even make a blip on the radar. Nada. What did I do?

I took Jake into the liquor store with me to get a bottle of wine.

You see, it's the end of the school year. Jake has some very special paraprofessionals that work with him in his classes; these ladies help keep him organized, write all his notes, and have been absolute angels. We want to thank them with a nice gift and when I asked Jake, he suggested a nice bottle of wine and maybe some good bread, plus a bit of chocolate.

People who don't know Jake might find this a little weird, coming from a 13 year old. What they don't know is that Jake is a foodie, and an aspiring wine connoisseur. For a long time he has been interested in the science behind wine making, and has plans to one day own his very own winery. He's fascinated with how it pairs with food, what is done to achieve specific flavors, etc. He watches Food Network Canada every single day and his favorite chef is Michael Smith (even as I'm writing this, he's glued to "Unwrapped").

Jake has long since been interested in things that would be considered really odd for his age level. Most of his peers think wine = alcohol = parrrrTAY! Jake? Not so much. Jake thinks wine = what would it taste good with? Maybe Mom can find a nice recipe? = yummy delicious dinner like this one.

We perused the aisles, discussing the virtues of Painted Turtle vs Arrogant Frog, but finally settled on Yellow Tail. Jake's best friend's parents drink Yellow Tail, and according to Jake they only drink "good wine", so it must be a good one. We did get a few funny looks, as Jake checked dates on the bottles, informed me that a vanilla oak flavor might be nicer, and suggested a merlot for the next time I made a stew.

So it didn't even occur to me that I might get a negative response when I tweeted about what we'd just done, nor that in the store we'd get a few funny looks.

The irony isn't lost on me here. Have I told you my experiences with alcohol when I was a teen and into my early 20s?

1. My mom actually got a friend to go to the liquor store to buy her some brandy to flavor our Christmas pudding, because she couldn't be seen in a liquor store.

2. I believed that those who drank were doomed to the fiery pits of Hell, and should I drink God would strike me dead on the spot. After my parents skinned me alive, that is.

3. My first party with friends that included alcohol was when I was 21. I drank a soda.

4. I remember getting in trouble with my parents for having a bottle of wine in my fridge when I had my own apartment at 21. It was a gift, and I had tried cooking with it-then the rest sat in my fridge for about 4 months.

5. My first time in a liquor store was when I was 28. I bought a cooler. That's right. One cooler.

Other than the occasional bottle to make something like this, or THIS, our home is alcohol free.

Unfortunately, Jake's peers are not.

Remember, I work in a high school. I hear the gossip about the town parties, who got drunk and passed out on the beach, whose parents bought them alcohol, whose parents don't care if they drink as long as they know where they are.

Did I mention these kids are thirteen to fourteen years old?

Booze is like an elixir of the Gods to them; some forbidden fruit that they must try even though they don't have the maturity nor the brains to handle it. I've seen them talk excitedly about their weekend plans, as if the alcohol they are consuming is the GREATEST THING EVER because omg I'm going to get, like, sooooo drunk!

That attitude? Scares the hell out of me. It's not just kids, either. I've been around adults who get breathless with excitement over the booze they are consuming, push more and more onto the people around them, and act just like the kids in high school.

It's amazing and wonderful and will make you happy and forget your problems and you must have another cosmopolitan because who cares you aren't driving home and I'm drinking and I don't like to drink alone and.....


So back to Twitter. One Twitter follower pointedly wrote, "the trip you made was for alcohol. I don't purchase it at all if my kids are with me."

Oh, of course. It actually was Jake's first time ever in a liquor store. If he were any younger then no way.

There was one comment that really made me think.

"Your kidding right! You took your 13 yr old to the liquor store. Even if it was for a gift what message are you sending him?

That one made me stop and think. What sort of example did I set, taking Jake into that liquor store? What message did he get among all the people we know who treat alcohol as some sort of exciting, cool, fun enhancer that they can't be without? The alcohol wasn't even for us, it was for a friend who, just like us, loves to cook and has occasional glass with her dinner.

I thought about all the people we know who allow their children a glass of wine with dinner, or a sip of their beer. Then the ones who buy non-alcoholic beer for their kids to 'celebrate' with. The ones who drink, and get drunk, in front of their kids. Is that any different than going in a liquor store? It's just a store, really. Sure there's alcohol, but nobody is consuming it.

What kind of example am I setting?

I'm setting the example that alcohol is no magic elixir. It will not make you more popular, more attractive, or make your problems go away. It can be as benign as a simple ingredient for a stew, or as dangerous as the cause of someone's death. Alcohol has it's place; as a drink that can impair your judgment, it needs to be respected and viewed with a certain amount of caution. It's also no evil, horrible sin that will send you to the depths of Hell. There is no need to be scared of it.

To me, a bottle of wine is just that. A bottle of wine. It's the attitudes of the people who are consuming it which concern me far more.

I'm not naive enough to believe that Jake will never try alcohol throughout his teen years (read the stats on that), but I do firmly believe that I can teach him healthy, responsible, mature behavior and by doing so, I can kill the idea that alcohol is the only way to have fun or that it's somehow incredibly exciting. Hiding my head in the sand and pretending that it's not there would be irresponsible on my part, because I know what his peers are doing.

So far, the conversations have been ongoing and Jake is not even remotely interested.

"Alcohol is expensive, you do stupid things you can't remember, throw up, feel like crap the next day, and then feel stupid about the things you did. How the heck can THAT be fun? When I'm an adult I'll try it, but not like THAT. Alcohol has it's place, but seriously, Mom? I think it's best left to cooking."

Exactly the example I was trying to set, and you know what?

I'm damn proud of it.

Because of the nature of the topic, I'm expecting to have some people disagree with what I did, and that's okay. I think it makes for good discussion. However, if the comments become nasty attacks, I will hit the delete button.

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