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Should Parents Abstain from Drinking?

Toddler and Teenager Expert Advice from Carleton Kendrick, Ed.M., LCSW

Q: My teenager says I drink and drive because my husband and I have wine with dinner when we go out. Do parents have to totally abstain from drinking if they don't want their teenagers drinking?

A: Your teenager, ever ready to point out any hypocrisy in adults, especially his parents, is literally correct that you do drink alcohol and then drive when you go out and have wine with dinner. Whether you consumed too much alcohol to render your driving abilities compromised is the key issue, not whether you consumed some alcohol and then later drove a car. Your teen's observations, however, provide you with a fine opportunity to discuss not only what constitutes a dangerous combination of drinking and driving (you need to do your homework on this so you know how much and what kind of alcohol is metabolized over how much time) but also your views and values related to drinking.

Parents do not have to abstain from drinking alcohol to set a good example for their children regarding abstinence or responsible drinking. Parents' using alcohol in a healthy manner and in appropriate contexts is more powerful than threatening lectures and "just say no" slogans. When it comes to substance abuse, be it alcohol, cigarettes, caffeinated beverages or prescription drugs, don't expect your teens to respect a parental "do as I say not as I do" command.

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Carleton Kendrick has been in private practice as a family therapist and has worked as a consultant for more than 20 years. He has conducted parenting seminars on topics ranging from how to discipline toddlers to how to stay connected with teenagers. Kendrick has appeared as an expert on national broadcast media such as CBS, Fox Television Network, Cable News Network, CNBC, PBS, and National Public Radio. In addition, he's been quoted in the New York Times, Washington Post, Chicago Tribune, Boston Globe, USA Today, Reader's Digest, BusinessWeek, Good Housekeeping, Woman's Day, and many other publications.


Please note: This "Expert Advice" area of FamilyEducation.com should be used for general information purposes only. Advice given here is not intended to provide a basis for action in particular circumstances without consideration by a competent professional. Before using this Expert Advice area, please review our General and Medical Disclaimers.

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