David Altshuler, M.S.
(305) 978-8917 | [email protected]

Maybe I shouldn’t but I let my 14 year-old son drink alcohol every day. Usually I just let him have beer but sometimes I let him drink vodka or bourbon. I let him make his own decision; it’s his choice. He’ll be an adult soon and there is a lot of alcohol in the world. The sooner he is able to make a determination for himself how much alcohol he can drink and what kind of alcohol works best for him the better.

Of course I’m aware of the research that says that alcohol destroys the adolescent brain and that neuronal development continues until age 25. Of course I know the result that the longer kids stay away from alcohol the more likely they are to be successful by every objective measure. The research is unassailable, true. The earlier kids start drinking the more likely they are to become alcoholics as adults.

But there are lots of kids in our neighborhood who are drinking alcohol at 14. I don’t want my son to be different.

Here’s my most cogent argument for why I allow my 14 year old son to drink alcohol as much as he wants: He’s really good at it.

He doesn’t like to read; he’s not doing well in school; he doesn’t have any other interests besides alcohol. I tried to get him involved in sports or in activities with other children. I tried to get him interested in community service or helping out with those other kids who do work with Habitat for Humanity, but he didn’t want to. He has trouble fitting in socially, always has. Drinking alcohol is what he does best. It gives him a sense of confidence and ability. Without alcohol, I think his self-esteem would be even lower. Who am I to take away the one thing that he’s best at, that makes him feel good about himself?

I tried to get him to cut down, but it just didn’t work. I said that he could only drink alcohol for three hours a day, that six hours a day of drinking alcohol was too much. But we just got in a big fight and it wasn’t worth the trouble. The fact of the matter is that as long as he drinks alcohol, we get along OK. Sure he’s grumpy and non-communicative even when he drinks every day; yes, he’s surly and disrespectful. But at least he’s not cursing at me and shoving me. When I tried to take away the alcohol, he said he would harm himself. If he hurt himself I just don’t know how I could live with myself.

One of my friends asked me how my son got started with alcohol to begin with. I have to admit that might be my fault. When he was four years old we were at a restaurant and he was misbehaving, throwing a tantrum really. I didn’t feel like I had any options. I gave him some crayons but he didn’t want to color. He wouldn’t sit still. I didn’t want to ruin the evening by taking him home. So I gave him some alcohol. Just a little bit to get him to calm down and behave himself. I guess the situation just grew from there. Whenever he would misbehave I would just give him a little alcohol and he would calm right down. Of course, over time, it took more and more alcohol to get him to behave himself. I guess I made a mistake, but now there just doesn’t seem to be a way to go back. I still don’t see what I could have done differently. One thing just followed another and here we are.

I wonder what the situation is going to be like in four years when my son is 18. I don’t know if he’ll be able to get into a good college. His grades in ninth grade aren’t good at all and I don’t know how well he can be expected to do in college what with his drinking alcohol all the time.

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David here, no longer channeling the parent whom I was quoting above. It seems I have made a mistake in my transcription of the conversation. I made a consistent and glaring typographical error. The parent didn’t actually say “alcohol” in the paragraphs above.

What the parent said was “violent video games.”

I’ll rewrite with the correction in place:

We started our son playing video games when he was four years old. We were at a restaurant and the interactive screen was the only thing that would calm him down, keep him from throwing a tantrum. We both work so there wasn’t time for board games, reading books, going for hikes, or playing in the back yard and besides, the video game was what he preferred. Over time, we came to prefer the video game as well. It kept our son quiet and allowed us to get our work done. It’s hard enough to cook dinner without having a four year-old crawling all over everywhere, asking questions, trying to “help”, getting in the way. With a screen in front of him, he was well behaved. I was able to get some rest after a full day as well. Then the battle to get him off the game became untenable. Getting him to cut down was no use. He was happier in his virtual world than he was in the real one.

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Here, stated explicitly and without irony, is my opinion of violent video games:

Some can; some can’t.

That is to say, there may be kids who can keep in under control, only play for a little while then put it away. If their grades are good, their social interactions are viable, and they’re getting enough exercise, then I don’t have a problem with video. I’d rather take my kids camping than have them play video games, but I acknowledge that the two activities are not mutually exclusive and that not everyone likes sleeping outdoors.

Just like alcohol, some people can have a glass of wine at dinner on the weekends and never have an issue with alcohol. If the kid is otherwise healthy and happy, I suppose a little bit of video gaming now and again might not hurt.

It doesn’t impress me as the safe way to bet though.

I know all about your friend who smoked cigarettes from the time he was 13 until he died of causes unrelated to smoking at age 92. Your friend’s happy, healthy life is not a good argument in favor of taking up smoking. In statistics, these arguments that disregard the denominator–in this case the number of people who die painful deaths due to emphysema–are called “whistling past the cemetery.” That is, the people who started smoking cigarettes at 13 but didn’t live to 92 aren’t around to tell their stories.

You wouldn’t give your 14 year-old son alcohol. Not even a little. Don’t give him a violent video game either. You know the old expression, “Pay me now or pay me later”?

Now is cheaper.

Suffer through the tantrums. Suffer through paying attention to your kid and the difficulties of parenting. Have a conversation. Heck, have an argument. Say what you think and let your kid say what he thinks. “Sunshine is a powerful antiseptic.”

And video games are a bad drug.

David

David

Copyright © David Altshuler 1980 – 2022    |    Miami, FL • Charlotte, NC     |    (305) 978-8917    |    [email protected]