The first event I attended as a sober adult was a screening of Larry Clark's film Kids, on its twentieth anniversary. This is, of course, completely ironic if you know the film; a portrait of city kids getting wasted, having sex, and being careless when it comes to self-preservation. I also attended the premiere of Kids, as a teenager back in 1995. That night, I showed up high and drunk, with an entourage of skaters. For the anniversary screening, I went alone and sans alcohol. Having given up binge drinking, I didn't have my former safety net so I was nervous. It was also one of the best nights of my life. Seeing old friends was much more enjoyable because I was sober. Many of the original "Kids" had kids of their own, which got me thinking about things I want my kid to know about binge drinking, so he or she won't have to suffer from the affects of being a functional alcoholic like I had.
If you haven't seen the film Kids, it served as a wake-up call for America, as Clark shocked audiences around the world with an inside look into what teenagers were really up to when left to their own devices. Binge-drinking, smoking pot, having unprotected sex and transmitting HIV to one another, stealing, beating people up, and parenting themselves. One of the film's messages was quite clear: the kids in this story went largely ignored by their parents, who were either absent, or not actively engaged in showing them how to take care of themselves.
As I start to think about having a family of my own, I want to make sure I have a plan in place to responsibly teach my kid how to self-care, and that means getting real about binge drinking and its prevalence and severity. According to the nonprofit Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD), one in seven kids is a binge drinker, yet only one in 100 parents believes his or her kid binge drinks. I do not want to be one of those parents, so with that in mind, here are things I want to teach my kids about binge drinking.
Binge Drinking Gets You Drunk Quickly, And It Ain't Glamorous
No one is a bigger fan of Gossip Girl than me. But one thing that seriously disturbs me about the show is how Blair, Chuck, Nate, and Serena consume copious amounts of alcohol without ever appearing drunk (there are some exceptions, but they're few and far between). This depiction of binge drinking teaches kids —erroneously— that drinking doesn't have consequences. When you factor in the glamorization of the show's characters, underage consumption of champagne and martinis comes off as a rite of passage, and a sign of affluence, rank, and good times.
In reality, binge drinking can cause alcohol poisoning, lead to violent and suicidal behaviors, and failure to achieve life goals. I want to make sure my kid knows the reality, so he or she can make an informed decision on how or when to imbibe.
Teenage Girls Are Starting To Drink More And More
According a recent survey of 18,000 college students across the United States, about one in three female students engages in binge drinking. Women who are alcohol dependent are more likely to be at risk for liver disease and brain damage, according to the same Harvard study. And although men are more likely to binge drink than women, women are catching up as the social stigma around women drinking has begun to wane.
The average girl in America has her first drink at 13 years old, and girls can become addicted to alcohol from binge drinking for different reasons than boys.
Girls Tend To Binge Drink To Cope With Problems Of Self Esteem
Many of the following reasons have to do with systemic sexism, but according to the same Harvard study, girls who binge drink drink for reasons that are tied closely to their perception of themselves and their roles in the social world, as opposed to peer pressure. Some of the reasons girls binge drink (consume five or more drinks in one sitting) include family problems, to cope with anger, to cope with frustration, and to escape problems. On the other hand, peer pressure is the number one reason teenage boys binge drink.
I want to make sure my kid has ways to cope with uncomfortable situations in life that don't include alcohol. If I have a daughter, I want to make sure she knows that she's beautiful when she's angry, and that her frustrations are nothing to be ashamed about and certainly nothing she should work to hide or bury with copious amounts of mind-altering substances.
Girls Who Binge Drink Put Themselves In Physical Danger
Besides the aforementioned health problems that pose a threat to female drinkers, girls who binge drink are more likely to engage in unprotected sex, or be too drunk to give consent to a sexual partner.
Photographer and college student Amanda Berg documented her experiences binge drinking and wrote the following for Time:
After a night of excessive drinking sexual assault can be redefined as a “hook up.” The loss of memory due to inebriation can proudly be termed “blacking out.”
Whether or not pride accompanies it, the behavior is risky nonetheless. From past experience, I can tell you that it can be damaging to one's self-esteem to feel like you don't have a say in your sexual behavior because you were binge drinking. I want to make sure my daughter knows how to protect herself. I also want to make sure my son is informed and understands consent, so he never violates another person's physical or emotional safety. Ever.
Boys Who Binge Drink Put Themselves In Serious Danger Too
Let's not forget about the danger boys put themselves in when they binge drink. Because adolescent boys are typically physically larger than adolescent girls, they can metabolize alcohol at a slower rate and tend to get drunk less quickly.
However, boys are more prone to excessive binge drinking than girls are. Excessive binge drinking is when someone consumes ten or more drinks in one sitting. That's a whole lot of booze. Why do boys excessively binge drink? One study claims ideas of fitting notions of masculinity play a role in why they might turn to booze. I want to make sure my kid understands that gender is a relational construct, and that peer pressure to fit into a mold of masculinity can be just as painstaking for boys as the pressure to fit into a mold of femininity is for girls.
Binge Drinking Isn't The Only Way To Celebrate Or Cut Loose
All kinds of pop culture references hold up booze as a way to celebrate victories, from "popping bottles" to raising a glass. However, it's not the only way to celebrate or cut loose, and I want to make sure my kid has alternative methods of having fun that are just as cool. As a parent, this starts by modeling dry methods of celebration before my kid even knows what alcohol is.
Binge Drinking Actually Deflates Your Sense Of Self-Worth
Sure, when you get your buzz on, you might feel like a rockstar. However, that buzz is only temporary, or until your brain craves more booze to feed its high. When you binge drink, that buzz becomes a buzz kill, and you can go from feeling on top of the world to feeling like you belong in the gutter, and in no time at all. I know, because I've been there.
I want to make sure my kid knows that self-worth is that little voice inside you that tells all the naysayers and critics to be quiet, and that in order to hear that voice loud and clear, you kind of have to be sober.
Binge Drinking Can Harm Others
As a parent, I don't just want my kid to be OK, I want my kid to treat others with respect, kindness, courtesy, and love so that the people around him and her are also OK. Why? Because I made the decision to procreate out of those very reasons, and if I don't pay it forward, who will?
From drunk driving to taking advantage of someone, people can harm other people when they're excessively using alcohol. I don't want my kid to be in a position where he or she harms someone else because of booze. There are so many terrible things that can happen in the world that I have no control over. Teaching my kid how to be responsible with alcohol might prevent something bad from happening and, as a parent, that's something I know I'll feel good about.