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No, Parents Must Set an Example

November 14, 1998|JOHN SICKLICK | President of MADD, Los Angeles County Chapter

MADD's position is that we have a zero tolerance for underage drinking; in the U.S., that is anyone under 21. We support the drinking age set at 21 and helped get it raised in the 1980s when some states dropped it to 18.

I think it's a fantasy to think if you give kids alcohol at home that they won't do something dangerous with it. A lot of parents think that the situation is under control if it's going on in front of them.

It's not just the issue of drinking and driving that makes it dangerous. It's things like binge drinking and having sex. You can talk to a lot of teens who will tell you their first sexual experience involved alcohol. Alcohol is a drug. The earlier they start drinking alcohol, the earlier they will abuse other drugs. Alcohol affects younger people differently. It is more likely to affect their reasoning or make them do things they would ordinarly not do.

Condoning drinking at home is in no way being a responsible parent. If parents say they want to teach their kids responsible drinking, there are other ways. MADD is not a temperance organization, we're not completely against drinking alcohol. Anyone 21 years and older is free to drink responsibly.

What are parents actually considering responsible? Are they making sure that their teenagers are not drinking and driving? Are they making sure they spend the night if they are drunk? Can they enforce this? It's like someone buying alcohol for someone at a liquor store; this is clearly not responsible. There is still a belief among adults that buying alcohol for kids is not a big deal. It's hard to say you are doing something responsible when you are breaking the law.

Being responsible is also about how the parents treat alcohol all the time, not just when the kids are around. Parents should explain to them why there is this drinking law and the fact that drinking is a leading cause of death for young people. They need to know that actions have consequences. Alcohol is a powerful drug. Being open with kids is positive, there should always be open communication. Teens should be able to call their parents if they find themselves in a situation they can't handle. But where do you draw the line when it involves illegal behavior?

MADD has an interactive CD-ROM called "The Key." It talks about parenting issues and focuses on alcohol. It is available from MADD. Call (877) KEY-TALK (539-8255) or order from our Web site: or for more information.

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