When Is the Right Age for a Child to Start Drinking ?
Here, a teenager advises parents on how to deal with issues related to teenage drinking.
“First you take a drink, then the drink takes a drink, then the drink takes you.”
I am currently an A-level student at a reputed college in Lalitpur. Since I started my studies there I have been invited to many social gatherings organized by my friends. One of the first questions I usually receive when I go to such occasions is: “Would you like a glass of beer?” That really got me into thinking what is the right age when teenagers should be allowed to drink alcoholic beverages.
Before anything else, we first need to understand why teenagers drink. First, the biggest reason is definitely peer pressure. It is really difficult to say “No,” when all your best friends surround you and mock you until you drink. Second, teenagers like to like to look cool in front of their friends. Who amongst us haven’t noticed handsome James Bond authoratively ask for a drink in a deep voice, and what could be more cool than that. Teenagers also think drinking makes them look more mature, and that they will be respected more. Third, they are usually trying to compensate for something they don’t have material or psychological by drinking. Unfortunately, loneliness and pain are realities for many teenagers. They have many difficulties to deal with in today’s modern society. They may have been bullied a lot at school, or may have faced a tragic incident. This is what they think compels them to drink and become drunk. In other words, they drink to escape stress and feeling sad. Fourth, our culture to a certain extent accepts drinking by teenagers, which sends the message to them that drinking is ok, and even expected of them. Fifth, it is the easy availability of alcoholic beverages. In countries like Nepal—unlike in the U.S. where in certain states you need to be 18 years of age before you are allowed to buy drinks--alcohol is easily available. I have rarely heard of anyone being carded, or checked for ID, to verify age. As long as you have money, even if you are a young child, they will give a bottle of alcohol to you. Sixth, teenagers are under internal pressure to mark a passage from childhood to adolescence. And they think drinking is the way to do that. Seventh, it is also due to their upbringing and bad role models. If all they see in their life is their parents drinking constantly, it is natural for them to think that perhaps a life of alcohol consumption is the only life there is.
The next question is, should anyone -- let alone teenagers -- drink? The answer is a little ambiguous here. It is both a yes and no, depending upon context. Perhaps if you drink in moderation it is permissible. But many lose their sense of moderation after a few glasses. As one anonymous person said, “First you take a drink, then the drink takes a drink, then the drink takes you.”
But when you consider all the negatives things associated with drinking you would probably wish that it were banned right away. These are some of those things: increase in violence; dullness of sense perception leading to accidents (mostly traffic); loss of self-control leading to ruination of reputation; and damage to health (it especially increases risks to body organs such as the liver and the pancreas). While there has not been a major study on the relationship been alcohol use and rape in Nepal, I would not be surprised to find a strong correlation. Alcohol somehow tends to bring out the worst in us all. As Eduardo Galeano wrote in his book the Book of Embraces, “We are all mortal until the first kiss and the second glass of wine.” Furthermore, it is dangerous because its uncontrolled use could be a gateway for teenagers to more dangerous narcotic drugs.
There are a certain things that the government could do to mitigate this problem. For example, shops (especially the ones near school premises) should not be allowed to sell alcohol for people under 18 years of age; and it should start educational campaigns at schools to inform students about the harmful effects of alcohol and drug use.
And there is much role for parents too..They themselves should: set a good example; advise their children on the harmful effects of alcohol intake; and tell them to not drink without their prior permission. Parents should also regularly check on their children, and even talk to their friends.
I would say that there is no right time for having an “alcohol talk.” The most suitable age to talk to them about this is when they are around 13 years old, because at this age they would be studying in the middle school and would have had enough exposure to the things you have been hiding from them. It would be better for your child to find out about alcohol from you than your child finding about alcohol from his or her peers. This way he or she would have a very different view on drinking.
As a parent, you may think that raising children strictly would help but the truth is that it does not. They will be more curious in the end and will find sneaky ways to elude your rules. It would be better if you talked to them directly about these kinds of sensitive things.