Sunday, March 30, 2008

Responsible Drinking, Among Other Things

In a very thoughtful post, TigerHawk links to a NYT article claiming that the best way to ensure that young people don't go overboard with alcohol is to model and explain the appropriate societal expectations--that alcohol is to be enjoyed but not abused. That view seems reasonable to me.

But it got me thinking. Regarding alcohol, in our schools we we teach the equivalent of abstinence. Alcohol is bad and is to be avoided at all costs. Why do we teach abstinence for alcohol, but, often in the very same health course, teach not sexual abstinence but so-called safe sex?

I'm not suggesting that schools teach "safe drinking" =) What I am suggesting is that schools should be teaching abstinence in both arenas, and parents should decide whether or not they want to teach "safe drinking" or "safe sex" to their children.

Reasonable?

17 comments:

Eric W. said...

Personally, I don't think that the school should be trying to raise us. It's the parents' job to teach their kids about sex and drinking. The school doesn't really have a good choice in what to teach, because it will be criticized for taking whatever position it takes. Let the parents guide their children morally and let the school guide them educationally. That being said, since we do have both of those programs in schools already, it'll be nigh impossible to stop them lest the schools be accused of tacitly approving of wild teenage sex orgies and binge drinking.

Ellen K said...

I remember when 18 year olds could drink. And yes, there were those kids who abused it and who smuggled it into school. I am sure there are kids that do it now. Where we got it wrong was to let them drive before they could drink. In Europe-one of the few things I agree with-there are extremely stiff penalties for DWI and DUI-mandatory counseling, jail time and loss of license. And they ENFORCE it, unlike the US where we see tragedies televised daily from repeat offenders. I say, let them drink at 16, but don't let them drive until they are 19 and out of high school-with graduation being a REQUIREMENT. This would do many things-reduce fuel consumption, reduce insurance financial gouging of the parents of teenagers and it would insure that the novelty of drinking was over by the time they get behind the wheel.

Ellen K said...

In response to the student's comment above, my district is implementing one of the toughest drug policies in the state of Texas. Until the end of the year 75 kids a week will be randomly tested for a variety of drugs. Next year 45 students per week will be tested. Anyone who competes for the school athletically or academically OR who wishes to park their care on campus must take the test if they are chosen. Refusal will be considered a positive test and the requirement go into play. I wish it hadn't come to this, but there are too many parents willing to buy their kid's way out of trouble. And when they do that, problems escalate. I wish that we could just leave it to parents, but sadly too many parents are far more concerned with their child's athletic or academic success over their health. There have been stories of well meaning but stupid exjock fathers getting supplements (not vitamins-)for their children in order to have them "make the team". The assumption is that so long as the kid is successful,there isn't a problem. The heroin deaths in affluent Plano in the 1990's were a big clue that even successful kids could be drug users. I expect a huge dust-up over this issue. But it may also open some eyes, and if it does that, lives might be saved.I am glad my name isn't on the list of administrators, though.

Carson said...

I agree with Eric, I think the school is way too involved in what we do during our personal time. For instance I heard a rumour that the administration is combing the social networking sites looking for alchohol in pictures and threatening to punish us if there is. If true I wonder if it they do their combing on school time and are payed for their efforts.

Dr Pezz said...

As for alcohol, I think kids seeing proper and responsible consumption of alcohol is key. Too many kids don't see proper modeling, which is sad. I lived in Germany for a time, and out of control drunkenness was frowned upon though drinking itself was not.

I think teaching how to protect oneself no matter the belief system is critical. I would definitely say the only fool-proof method of protection is abstinence (of alcohol and sex), but I would also like to see schools teach safe sex as well.

Recent surveys and studies have concluded that sex rates remain the same in abstinence-only and safe sex programs. Thus, I want my kids learning it all. While I prefer I do all the teaching, I know other kids do not get this and learn everything through the TV, other media, and friends.

Dr Pezz said...

Sorry for the shameless self-promotion, but I have a couple thoughts (more in-depth) about the sex ed stuff:

http://drpezz.wordpress.com/2008/03/12/frightening/

http://drpezz.wordpress.com/2008/03/04/oral-sex-story/

Darren said...

Where is the line drawn, and who draws it? I can see the state acting on behalf of a child if the child's life is in imminent jeopardy (like the girl who died last week while her parents prayed--presumably for a miracle other than modern medicine), but beyond that things get iffy.

At what point do we say that the state knows better than you do, parent, and we're taking over now?

Parents don't want to teach their kids safe sex--wrong answer! We'll take it from here.

Parents want to spank misbehaving kids--wrong answer! We'll take it from here.

Parents want to smoke in the car with kids present--wrong answer! We'll take it from here.

Parents wouldn't want their daughter to get an abortion--wrong answer! We'll take it from here.

Parents don't feed their kids breakfast before school--wrong answer! We'll take it from here.

Parents want to introduce their children to alcohol consumption a la the European model--wrong answer! We'll take it from here.

At what point does the state relieve parents of parenting and do the job for the parents? What are the rules, and who sets these rules?

Donalbain said...

According to the evidence, no. Not reasonable at all. The evidence suggests that abstinence only sex education works just about as well as "never drink" alcohol education works. That is to say, it sucks. As someone said above, the rates of sexual activit don't change, but the rate of condom use amongst the sexually active teenagers DOES change.

The best (most effective) form of sex education seems to be along the lines of "Abstinence is the safest, but if you do have sex, here are the ways to protect yourself".

Darren said...

Should we teach safe drinking to teenagers as well, then?

Ellen K said...

Hey, at least the kids would do their homework.....

Dr Pezz said...

I'm not sure about your school, but my school does have a unit in a required health class which specifically explains how alcohol affects the body and how the body absorbs alcohol (rates based on weight, eating, time, etc.). It's as close as we get.

It's hard to teach "safe drinking" to teens since it's against the law whereas sex is not illegal for them.

Eric said...

I think Donalbain has said it best. Teaching abstinence is not effective. Schools do need to teach facts about health, both sexual health and about drugs and alcohol. This means explaining the mechanics of sex and reproduction, and making honest statements like the one Donalbain points to. That isn't teaching safe sex, that's teaching facts about sex. So to answer Darren's question, no, schools shouldn't teach safe drinking, but they should teach about the effects on the body and mind of drinking and talk about staying safe when drinking: not drinking too much, not driving, not getting in situations where stupid decisions might be made. In neither case does promoting abstinence get you better results than honest talk about facts. The fact that abstaining keeps you safest is one of those facts, but not the only one.

Darren said...

I don't accept the dichotomy that teaching abstinence equals not teaching about the "mechanics". However, when schools teach about how to put on a condom, and promote Planned Parenthood (aka abortion mills), they've stepped beyond the mechanics and into advocacy. Neither should be advocated on the public dime.

anna said...

I agree with your post, to a certain extent. But you assume that the parents are ABLE to teach these things.

I teach high school English in an low-income school district where many families are on public assistance. Many of my students are being raised by single mothers who work full-time. They are not being taught "safe" anything. I have 3 pregnant girls in my classes, and at least 5 more who I know are already mothers. Our required health class does not include pregnancy prevention - only abstinence. And I can tell you from overhearing their conversations, they are woefully uninformed when it comes to birth control (think old wives' tales and "he should know what to do so that she doesn't get pregnant"). And these conversations have also shown me that if there is one thing that they aren't doing... its practicing abstinence.

Yes, we shouldn't step on parent's toes, or try to do their job for them... but what about the children who get left without any guidance at all?

Darren said...

That's the devil in the details, isn't it, Anna?

My concern about the state's stepping in whenever someone thinks the parents aren't doing what "we" want them to do--who makes that call, and how? Who watches the watchers?

Aaron said...

Do I understand correctly - you see no meaningful distinction between the consumption of alcohol and having sex? ;-)

Darren said...

Sure there are meaningful differences--one is a prelude to the other =)