Ahhh, holiday season. It’s supposed to be a happy, jolly time of year, but for many young people it is a time of stress and depression. It’s no wonder. Teens are cramming for finals and finishing up end-of-year projects (or feeling ashamed because they’ve done poorly this semester). There are fewer organized sports activities this time of year, and the weather in many parts of the country conspires to keep them indoors and isolated from friends.

Parents are extra-busy with office holiday gatherings and shopping added to their normally hectic schedules while worrying about how to pay for it all makes for short tempers. Perhaps this is why alcohol figures so prominently at holiday parties. What better way to lift the spirits than a nice hot toddy? What says festive more than a cup of eggnog spiked with spirits?

For parents, it’s important to realize what message is being sent when alcohol becomes the focus of the festivities. Too often, adults take a, “do as I say, not as I do,” approach when it comes to alcohol. After all, it IS legal for grown-ups to drink.

That’s true. But parents must remember that our children are watching, learning, and filing this information away for their future. Sadly, many don’t just file the information – they choose to start emulating the grown-ups long before they are ready to deal with the consequences of indulging.

So this year, when planning the annual holiday gathering, consider the kids with these tips:

  • First, live by the letter of the law. Alcohol is only for adults; in other words, people over 21.
    It’s not a good idea to offer children, tweens or teens alcohol… ever. Not even in the “safety of the home.” It just flat-out sends the wrong message.
  • Second, if alcohol and kids are going to be in the same space, designate a non-drinker. This person should have responsibility for the kids and also make sure nobody that’s been drinking has access to car keys.
  • Third, make sure the focus of the party is on something besides alcohol. Provide lots of non-alcoholic beverages and plenty of food. Save the drinking games for when it’s an adults-only event.
  • Fourth, if a sweet and attractive beverage is spiked with alcohol, say eggnog or cider, make sure the kids don’t have access to it. Also, they should know what it’s okay to drink, or eat, before the festivities get underway.
  • Finally, clean-up the half-drunk glasses of grog or bottles of beer before going to bed. Young people love to act like the grown-ups and take sips of things they shouldn’t.

But if you only remember one thing, remember these words from the 2001 report, Malignant Neglect: Substance Abuse and America’s Schools, published by the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University, “Parents are the single most important influence on children’s decision to smoke, drink, or use drugs, yet many parents do not fully understand the extent of their influence.”

Have a safe and sober holiday season!