If you haven’t seen “The Cat in the Hat” movie, here’s a brief synopsis of the story line: The Cat tells the little Boy that whatever he does, do NOT open the big box the Cat brought into the house or bad things will happen. Naturally, unable to withstand the temptation, the kid opens the box - and all Hades breaks out. In the end the Cat admits he told the boy NOT to open the box because he KNEW the kid wouldn’t be able to resist doing what he was told not to do.
Kinda like the way society handles kids and alcohol.
When it comes to “adult beverages,” the unmistakable lesson drilled into kids’ heads is “don’t open the box.” Whatever you do, don’t drink. Period. End of discussion. So after 18 years of being told “no, no, no” under Mom and Dad’s roof, what’s the first thing Little Johnny does when he finally leaves the nest and flies off to college? Party time, baby!! Keg-ger! Keg-ger!
And with the predictable, often tragic, consequences. Having never been taught how to responsibly consume alcoholic beverages, these young adults have a tendency to take a good thing too far - often killing themselves and others.
Indeed our public policies on alcohol consumption are so out of whack that even if you join the Marines at 18, go to the Middle East, “dust” some terrorists, survive, come home and head down to Joe’s Tavern for frosty cold one...you can’t. No, no, no. You must wait until you’re 21. Here, lad, have a Root Beer instead.
I was at the beach last week with my 6-year-old and 4-year-old, both of whom are pretty accomplished swimmers for their ages. And I watched my kids play with two older kids - except the older kids were wearing a pair of giant, bulky life vests in ankle-deep water. Wow, what fun! Granted, it’s possible to drown in a bucket of water, and kids are certainly safer wearing vests, but how are they ever going to learn to swim on their own if they’re “vested up” on shore? What’s going to happen if they somehow accidentally fall into a swimming pool without a vest on when Mom and Dad aren’t looking? While it may not be “safer,” are we really doing these kids a favor by not teaching them to swim on their own without a vest as soon as possible?
Likewise, are we really doing our kids any favors by not teaching them how to handle alcohol responsibly at an earlier age and under adult supervision? I’m not saying to actively promote alcohol consumption, or forcing kids to drink who don’t want to. What I AM saying is that wrapping them up in a non-alcohol bubble for 21 years and then cutting them loose unsupervised is both naïve and counterproductive.
Too many people still think that a 21-year prohibition is the only way to deal with the reality of consuming “adult” beverages. A 20-year-old drinking a cold Bud with Dad while watching Monday Night Football at the neighborhood sports bar isn’t going to hurt himself or others. But society says that’s a no-no. On the other hand, society says it’s perfectly OK to give a 16-year-old the keys to a 4-ton Ford Excursion and allow him to barrel down the highway at 65 miles per hour on his own. Yeah, that makes sense.
The government shouldn’t be promoting alcohol consumption, but neither should it prohibit parents from teaching their own kids how to handle drinking socially and responsibly. Perhaps by taking the “glamour” out of drinking, fewer kids will abuse the privilege once out on their own. It might even save lives.
Chuck Muth is president of Citizen Outreach, a non-profit public policy advocacy organization in Washington, D.C. Originally appeared in the American Daily on July 9, 2006 as “Teach, your children well.“ Posted by permission.