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Community Debate

Let Teens Drink at Home

November 14, 1998

A national survey released last month found that the majority of Americans view underage drinking as a significant problem. More than 83% supported penalties for adults who provide alcohol to underage drinkers. MAURA E. MONTELLANO spoke with a parent who allows her underage son to drink at home and a representative of Mothers Against Drunk Driving.

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MARY LOU RODRIGUEZ

Business owner, Simi Valley

I have two sons, ages 21 and 18. The oldest has been drinking since he was 19. He had friends who didn't drink early on and that held drinking off for him for a while.

As time went on, he started developing new friends in college. Those kids did drink, although not heavily. They just dabbled in it at parties. I only noticed he was drinking when we were having a social event at our home and he asked if he could have a beer. When I asked if he had been drinking, he admitted he had.

Truthfully, it surprised me. With him being the oldest, the younger one saw this and probably thought it was OK. He started drinking at a younger age. I was amazed that they would take up drinking considering what they know of the history in our family.

Drinking problems have occurred in our family on both sides. It's rampant, so of course I am very concerned. From what I've read, it could be a genetic trait. I have talked to both my sons extensively about the dangers of drinking. I tell them how addiction can creep up on them, how they can lose control. So far we haven't had problems with it.

Now for the younger one, I think his maturity has a lot to do with how he deals with alcohol. He won't drive when he drinks. If he is drinking at home, he doesn't go out afterward. When he is out with friends, they designate a driver. He is very responsible, as are his friends. They watch out for one another.

I'm not happy with it, but at the same time, I don't want to put the pressure on him and have him start lying to us. He could easily sneak it or drink to spite us. If we're open about it, it's better. As long as they remain responsible, I will treat them as adults.

I think the openness helps. He knows I'm watching him very closely. Also they do not drink to excess. They might have a beer or a glass of wine at home. I want them to learn how to drink. Not to guzzle, not to get crazy, not to fall down. If they are going to drink, I want to see how they drink. They need to learn their limits.

One day they will be in a social environment where they will be offered a drink and I want to know that they will drink responsibly. Ultimately, I would rather they not drink but you can't control it. Once they reach a certain age they have to be responsible to make their own decisions. I think I'm being realistic. Parents shouldn't think they aren't out there drinking.

As long as they are in my home and I'm not offering alcohol to their friends and they are not out hurting themselves or anyone behind the wheel, I don't feel I'm breaking the law. I don't see anything wrong with my supervising their drinking. As long as they demonstrate maturity when they are drinking, I think it's safe. They are not out buying alcohol illegally. They are having it at home with their parents' consent. I don't condone drinking but I accept it. If a teenager is going to drink, it's up to the parents to teach them moderation.

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