Parents, Values, and Alcohol

Parents pass on their values to their children, both consciously and unconsciously. From the time they are born until they leave home, children learn values from their parents. While this is not the sole factor in value formation, it is the primary one because parents spend more time with their children than any other group of people.

This simple reality made a piece appearing at The Atlantic jump out so sharply. The article was about the state of college binge drinking and the factors leading to it. While it was interesting in its own right, I found it more fascinating that the article had appeared in The Atlantic, an organization that is hardly a bastion of conservative values. In her article, Caitlin Flanagan argued that when it comes to alcohol there are two types of parents, Good Parents, and Get-Real Parents and they both pass on their values to their children.

Good Parents are those who warn their children about the dangers of alcohol and try to keep them for its ravages. Get-Real Parents, on the other hand, are those who see the problems of alcohol and try to teach their children how to manage alcohol by hosting parties so that their children can drink in a “safe’ environment.

The stark contrast between the two comes to the forefront when Flanagan writes,

Intuitively, the Good Parent understands something public-health research confirms: that when it comes to alcohol use, adolescents take their parents’ counsel into strong consideration. Today’s young people—unlike members of my own, ’70s generation—don’t ignore their parents’ guidance on important matters; they seek it. Even if the child of a Good Parent decides to drink, she has a lodestar that many of her peers do not. When she wakes up in the mess and humiliation of a morning after, she thinks: This isn’t what my parents want for me.
Contrasting this with the Get-Real Parents she says,

“The real question about these parents (many of whom pay for their kids’ alcohol, revel in their stories about the s*** show, delight in emails from campus highlighting new services for the plastered, such as golf-cart rides back to the dorm by helpful safety officers) is this: Why have they so cheerfully handed over their children to this ugly and worthless experience?”

Rarely is an issue put forward with such candor, and when talking about alcohol, it is a much-needed tone. However, the starkest sentences of the entire article are the final two where Flanagan draws a straight line for the parent’s values to the children’s behavior and asks the question,

What are these kids really vomiting up every weekend at their fancy colleges? Is it really just 12 shots of apple-flavored vodka? Or is it a set of values, an attitude toward the self and toward others, that has become increasingly hard for them to stomach?

drinking_798775aAs Spring Break begins and college kids descend upon beach towns many will glorify the exploits of binge drinking at wild parties. But they won’t show the long term wounds that will be writ large across the lives of many participants. They won’t show the victims of sexual assault, or the woman who can’t have kids because of an STD she got from a one night stand, or the life of the party’s weekly dialysis treatment due to sclerosis of the liver.

The values parents instill in their children will work themselves out. Unfortunately, facing the devastating consequences of some of those values, many will spend the weeks after Spring Break picking up the pieces of broken lives.

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