Modeling Substance-Free Fun
by Ginny Hunneke
The 4th of July is right around the corner. No doubt, you’ve already been inundated with messages from advertisers telling you to purchase their brand of beer or wine to make the holiday a complete success. If you are a parent of underage children, you can bet that your kids are getting heavy doses of these messages too.
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, “Alcohol manufacturers spend $5.7 billion/year on advertising and promotion. Young people typically view 2,000 beer and wine commercials annually, with most of the ads concentrated in sports programming.
“Research has found that adolescent drinkers are more likely to have been exposed to alcohol advertising. Given that children begin making decisions about alcohol at an early age—probably during grade school—exposure to beer commercials represents a significant risk factor. Minority children may be at particular risk.”
Do your 4th of July festivities include drinking with your underage kids? How about your kids drinking with their friends?
I didn’t think so.
According to relentless TV advertising, alcohol is practically a prerequisite for summer celebrations. So how do we convince our kids to ignore the media and have fun without it?
We can model “unadulterated” substance-free fun.
Yep, you read that correctly.
We know beyond a doubt that the best way to teach our children is to model what we want them to learn. Unfortunately, our culture often models that fun is best experienced with the assistance of social lubricants.
But we know better. We had fun at the age of 6 without alcohol or drugs, and we can still experience that same joyful state of being at 16 or 60 without them, too!
I have a FUN challenge for you:
Consider having a substance-free celebration this holiday weekend with your kids.
If you are game, the hardest part may be getting buy-in from your friends.
Years ago, I participated in a regular weeklong vacation gathering of families with teens and tweens. Generally, it was a fun group of folks with shared interests. However, dinner was often a time when the group dynamic took a turn for the worse. Cocktail hour preceded mealtime, wine flowed through three courses, and after-dinner drinks were paired with dessert. Some drank moderately, but others did not.
As a non-drinker, I was always acutely aware of the biphasic effects of alcohol on the group, and they were definitely unpleasant.
Cheery sociability as the first drinks were consumed quickly gave way to sloppy and inappropriate speech and stumbling over boundaries, both literal and figurative, as the evening wore on.
Alcohol’s briefly stimulating effects always led to its much more negative and depressant qualities as more drinks were consumed.
The ultimate irony is that excess alcohol consumption is itself a real buzz kill. It can also be a dangerous and misguided way to “show” our kids how to relax and have fun.
After several of these gatherings, I decided it was important for the adults in our group to show our children other more sustainable ways to have fun.
I approached the adults privately to ask if they’d be open to having a few dinners without alcohol.
You would have thought that I had asked the adults to come to the table naked! Upon reflection, that’s essentially what I did. In asking them to model sober fun, I unveiled their dependency on social lubricants.
Some children of the parents who responded to my request with, “Oh, we’re teaching our kids to drink responsibly. No, I don’t see the point,” have already become active substance abusers.
I haven’t attended these gatherings with my son in years.
Yes, it may feel like an uphill battle. But it’s one worth choosing.
Intoxication is practically a rite of passage for many teens. Mind-altering substances are, without a doubt, dangerous to the normal development of the teenaged brain.
Considering the limited development of a teen’s prefrontal cortex, the best weapon we have in our arsenal to battle impulsive behavior is to model appropriate behavior.
The good news is that “unadulterated” fun can only enhance the quality of your celebrations! It’s also an awesome reminder for young and old alike that You Can’t Bottle Joy!