A couple of weeks ago my fourteen year old went away for a week's residential trip with school. The kit list came home and in block capitals across the bottom was a missive warning of the consequences of taking alcohol or cigarettes. It took me by surprise. I suppose that because it never crossed my mind that my child would pack alcohol in her bag I hadn't thought about the possibility. But of course it is totally possible and presumably packed by children just like mine whose parents' minds it never crossed either.
So here it comes galloping over the horizon into full view - my next parenting dilemma. What do I do about my children and alcohol?
As with all things parenting I tend to start with my own experiences as a child. I don't remember booze playing much part in our family life. As far as I recall, my parents didn't really drink in front of us. I don't know if that was a considered policy or just the way it worked out. And I really didn't like the taste, being able to detect a whiff of sherry in the trifle at a hundred paces. The result was that alcohol didn't really feature in my life until I was 16 and I still think that's an acceptable age to start experimenting with the demon drink.
So that doesn't really help me. I'm going to have to formulate my own plan of action.
I have been taking note of how other people seem to be preparing for the inevitable. So far I have observed four different approaches.
1. The total denial. 'They are only 13 and 14. Of course they aren't drinking yet.'
This is going nowhere. I may be naive but even I know that it's happening and pretending that it isn't won't help.
2. The total ban. This is, of course, what many people would like to do at least until they get a bit older but banning things is rarely the answer so I have disregarded it as an option.
3. The turning of a blind eye. 'I'm not sure where they're getting it from but it's only a couple of bottles. It's just what I did.'
The trouble with this approach is that you can never be entirely sure exactly what it is that you're turning a blind eye to. A couple of bottles of Budweiser or a litre of vodka. And what is it doing for parent child communications?
4. The controlled introduction. 'I'll provide a bit and then they can learn about the effects of alcohol where it's safe.'
This seems to be the most sensible idea. A little wine with a meal, a bottle of beer at a barbecue. All controlled, in appropriate social settings and with the emphasis on a drink as a pleasant experience and not a means to an end.
But..... they are only 14. As far as I can see they are just too young. It's like everything else. Phones at primary school, make up at 11, heels at 13. It's all far too soon. They are, or should be still children at 14. On the cusp, I accept but there's no need for us to go pushing them over the edge so that they fall, headlong into the dirty, dangerous adult world.
So I'm trying to follow approach number 5 and gently suggest to my daughter that it would be preferable to wait until she's a bit older when her young liver will be better placed to deal with the onslaught. I don't know if it will work. With this approach, I am pretty much at the mercy of her ability to make the right choices. It depends on mutual trust and her understanding of the reasons why I feel the way I do. I don't want ban alcohol. I see little point. If they want to drink then they will no matter what their parents say. I just want her to hold back for a little while until she is better equipped to deal with the consequences.
Have I got it right? Who knows? Time will tell.