My first taste of tipple was a sip of Dad’s KB en route to the tip when I was not quite ten.
He used to wedge the cool, gold can (lukewarm by the time we got there) between his knees so it wouldn’t topple and let me take small sips as we chugged along to drop off the detritus, inevitable with a household of six kids, into huge gaping craters of stench which I would pick my way through fossicking for treasure (a discarded doll or the like). We thought nothing of it. The beer, I mean. It cooled me down which was the main thing. And it was a moment shared.
A dad wouldn’t do that today. He wouldn’t dare. Because our generation of parents have become hyper alert to the risks of alcohol. Yet here I am, beer swiller from way back, and now I don’t drink a drop.
There’s no correlation between my early start and later abstinence. I don’t drink not for any philosophical objections or even for better health (although I hear it helps) and, no, not because I’m scarred by my childhood KB moment. I had my last drink (although I didn’t realise it at the time) some eight years ago because I just got jack of the hangovers. One glass of champers and I’d be wiped out the next day and I’m not prepared to waste any more days. One morning I decided that was it and so it was.
Since then I’ve had two children.
They’re too young (even by my tip trip standards) for me to contemplate their alcohol consumption and whether I plan to regulate it. But I know one thing: I expect them to drink.
My fear is if I say they can’t, they probably will anyway. To put the kibosh on anything for teenagers, only fuels its intrigue. To rein them in only sends them the other way. Defying authority is their modus operandi.
I should know.
I started drinking around 16 (notwithstanding the mini sips of KB), forging ID to get into the pub, knocking back West Coast Coolers like water before heading to the nearby park where so many kids (which we were) threw up that it became known as Spew Park. I sculled so much beer once that I vomited in a cab, which my friends and I thought was quite hilarious. I have drunk until I passed out with no recollection of the night before. At uni we were all dolled up for the Cinderella Ball, so named because it starts at midnight, but I paced myself so poorly in the hours before, I missed the whole thing. And I was one of the tamer ones. Never once did it occur to me (nor any of us) that this was a bad thing. It was all part of the fun.
Ideally I’d want none of that for my boys. But I can’t make that happen. Certainly not by demanding teetotalism.
But, for what it’s worth, I’ll insist they wait until they’re at least 18. Not just because it’s legal but because it’s sensible. Research shows excessive alcohol at a young age disrupts brain development in cognitive decision making, memory and impulse control, increasing the likelihood of becoming alcohol dependent as an adult.
Many parents defy this, adopting the common social practice of serving teenagers grog at the table assuming they’ll be less likely to binge elsewhere.
Alcohol researchers stress this has no scientific basis, recommending parents delay introducing young people to alcohol for as long as possible. “From a public health and brain science perspective, it’s pretty clear cut”, says Professor Ian Hickie, Executive Director of the Brain and Mind Research Institute (Sydney University) on the Drinkwise website. “Avoid exposing teens to alcohol until the brain is fully developed and reduce the chance your child will go on to have alcohol related problems”.
Prominent Drug and Alcohol Researcher, Paul Dillon, says ‘tough love’ is the most effective parenting tool when it comes to booze and teens. We need to be their parent not their friend.
A teenage friend of mine did pull it off. The incentive was financial, a cash carrot from her parents:$2000 on her 18th birthday if she abstained until then, which she did. We thought she was remarkable at the time. Such self control.
Interestingly my friend, and her only other sibling to take up the offer, drink the least of any of the nine siblings as adults.
But we don’t drink at first because we like it. We drink to fit in.
From my very first KB sips (rare time alone with my Dad), to the more extreme binge drinking of my teens and twenties, I was trying to be a part of it, this obligatory pastime of my youth. Sometimes I faked it, tipping my vodka and orange into pot plants when no one was looking, surreptitiously discarding goblets of cask wine, hiding in the bathroom long enough to miss a round. Because what I didn’t have back them was the courage to be authentic. To belong without bluffing.
Now, I do.
Of course I hope my boys will get to this place too. Not that they won’t drink. That’s up to them. But that if they do, they’ll do so because they want to, not because they need to.
Jacinta Tynan is an Ambassador for Ocsober raising funds for Life Education
This story was first published on Daily Life on 4th October 2016