Parents: Your Habits Set the Stage

Wednesday, September 14th, 2011

A new University of Florida study shows that children of parents who drink, even moderately, are more likely to drive under the influence of alcohol. Of course, this conclusion is only one small part of the big picture. The reality of the situation is that parents, through their words as well as their actions, instill values in their children. If you obviously enjoy tossing back a few drinks with your friends, or if you tell glorified tales of your own partying, you’re reinforcing the formula that alcohol = a good time. If you regularly turn to alcohol or other drugs when you’ve had a bad day, you may be inadvertently showing your kids that substances are a way to cope with stress.

Things become even more complicated when driving is involved. If your children grow up seeing you drinking a few glasses of wine at a restaurant and then getting back behind the wheel, they will see that pattern of behavior as acceptable and will be more likely emulate it themselves as adults. Here in the U.S., where someone is killed every 50 minutes in an alcohol-impaired crash, having a lax attitude towards drunk driving is like playing with fire. Even a small gesture like asking yourself aloud, in front of your kids, “How long has it been since I finished that drink? Am I sober enough to drive?” can be extremely valuable. It lets them know that you are staying aware and making an informed decision about your actions.

While the University of Florida study shows that “parents have more influence on their children than their kids’ friends do,” reality is much more complex. Of course kids who are already interested in dangerous behaviors will gravitate towards similarly-minded kids. But by demonstrating positive behaviors and articulating your reasoning in front of your kids (“No thanks, I can’t drink tonight—I’m driving”) you’re setting the stage for them to make their own smart choices later on.

Kids under 21 account for 13% of alcohol-related driving fatalities in the United States. As parents, all we can do is set an example for our kids in hopes that tragedies like this will be less frequent in the years to come. It can be as simple as arranging for your own designated driver after a party, or passing on that extra glass of wine at dinner. Parents need to realize that the power to influence the next generation for the better is undoubtedly in their hands.

Naomi Weinstein

Director, National Family Services

Phoenix House

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