Chelsea Lynn Jurman, a seventeen-year-old from New York, is one of forty finalists in the new incarnation of the Westinghouse Science competition, with her social science study of what influence talk of parents’ wild party days has on their teen’s drinking habits.
The news, Jurman found, is not good. If you talk about teenage indiscretions in front of your kids, her survey of one hundred twenty-three teens shows they’re more likely to believe that it’s acceptable to do so themselves. If the kids didn’t hear much about their parents drinking as kids, they were more likely to just say no.
I’m divided on how I feel about this study. I’ve always felt there’s a delicate balance between lying to our kids and revealing too much. It’s my problem with kids and parents meeting on Facebook – not everyone in the family needs to know EVERYTHING about each other. Telling kids about your youthful indiscretions, then instructing them not to copy you, is literally the “do as I say, not as I do” model of parenting – which works, um, never.
On the other hand, if my now three-year-old daughter one days asks if I had any alcohol as a child, I don’t think I can lie to her. “No, Mommy waited until she was twenty-one and in perfect accordance with all laws” is A. a lie B. not realistic and C. likely to make a teenager roll her eyes and walk away. I’ll lose that “teachable moment” we’re always searching for. I’d like to think I’ll divulge the bits that are most important for a growing teen – “Yes, I drank, but I never drove with any alcohol in my system,” or “Yes, but I never drank at a party where I didn’t know everyone, and trust everyone.”
My colleague Shannon discussed the interesting theory that some parents think they need to drink FOR the kids, but this isn’t a matter of how you model drinking behaviors today (which I do think is an important part of developing appropriate attitudes toward alcohol). Parents have to decide how much of their past they can edit. Is there anything you’ll be holding back?
Image: Scientific American