Apples Don't Fall Far from Trees

BY: DAVID ZWANETZ, Partner @ The Law Firm of Shapiro & Mack

Please allow me to preface this article with the caveats that I am only a little over one year into fatherhood and was raised by a family of relatively new Americans that viewed alcohol consumption, even by people well under twenty-one, as essentially the same as drinking coffee or soda. As a young man, if I wanted a drink, I probably could easily have had one in my home. If I wanted five drinks in one sitting, however, it would have been viewed as completely insane. After all, who has five cups of coffee or five sodas in one sitting? The question is, was this attitude towards alcohol healthy or harmful? To be honest, I suspected that if I researched the topic I would find that my parents’ attitude towards alcohol was healthy, as I had very little interest in alcohol in High School, College, and still to this day. I chalked it not being glamorous or rebellious for me to drink. However, much to my surprise, and at a very good time in my life as a parent, my research illustrates that my lack of desire to drink, could be purely coincidental and contrary to statistical probabilities. In fact, research shows that underage drinking of alcohol at home leads to very real consequences for both parents and teens. Now before I illustrate what I have learned it is important for me to note that I did not drink alcohol at home, which may be the key to this puzzle. But do I suspect I would have been allowed to if I wanted to. One last thing before the research, which is extraordinarily important to note, is that it is a violation of Maryland Law to knowingly and willfully allow possession or consumption of an alcoholic beverage by an underage person. This includes in a residence and the area around a residence. There are some exceptions when it relates to one’s own children and if drinking is for religious or ceremonial purposes, but it is much easier to simply consider allowing an underage person to drink to be illegal. By illegal, I mean punishable by a jail term as well as a fine between $2500 and $5000 for each and every count (each child found to be drinking). But this article is not really about law or the legalities associated with underage drinking. It is about some of the myths people have relating to it being somehow safer, or better, to allow young people to drink at or near their home. On that note, here is what I have found during my trek to Google to get answers:

Theory: Many parents think that providing alcohol to teens at home will lessen the allure of drinking and decrease the risk of continued drinking as teens get older. Facts: Supplying alcohol to minor’s increases, rather than decreases, the risk for continued drinking in the teenage years. Which then, obviously, leads to an increased possibility of subsequent drinking problems later in life. Grant and Dawson, 1997; Hingson et al., 2006; Winters and Lee, 2008

Theory: This one hits very close to home.  Young people from European cultures, whose parents allow alcohol at an early age, learn to be more responsible than American counterparts. Facts: A greater percentage of Euro youth report drinking regularly vs. American Youth. For a majority of Euro countries, a greater percentage of young people report having been drunk in early teen years, and with that comes more alcohol related injuries, as well as, dependence in later years. U.S. Department of Justice Office of Justice Programs, “Youth Drinking Rates and Problems: A Comparison of European Countries and the U.S. and Kelly, Chan, O’Flaherty, 2012” & Global Status Report: Alcohol and Young People, 2001

Theory: Parents that are very strict about alcohol will have kids that go to college and come completely unhinged because they have no experience with alcohol. Truth: Research from The Partnership Attitude Tracking Study (PATS) illustrates that kids simply do what their parents do and thus kids that perceive their parents being permissive about alcohol use, are more likely to abuse alcohol and other drugs. Partnership Attitude Tracking Study, 2012

Interestingly, almost everything that I expected to find when I looked at the research was the exact opposite of what I found. However, after a brief bit of reflection, the truths behind the theories presented surely are common sense. Apples don’t fall far from trees, so sometimes research is the only way to be something other than a stale apple. As I mentioned above, I only have about fourteen months experience as a parent, so I am ill qualified to give advice on child rearing. However, I am qualified as Criminal Defense Lawyer in Howard County, with a whopping 80% of my cases being alcohol and drug related, to compile research with an emphasis on keeping kids away from booze. Numbers don’t lie, and from my trek this area as a lawyer and in compiling this article, it surely seems that the numbers illustrate that allowing kids to drink leads to negative consequences for both parents and teens. Food for thought…