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I grew up in another country where alcohol was part of the culture and teenagers were allowed to drink. Why cant I continue that tradition with my own children?

Although the drinking age may vary between one culture and another, all cultures adhere to some restrictions, especially for teenagers. Countries that are ambivalent about drinking alcohol, such as the United States, are more rigid than are the more permissive countries. The countries where wine and beer are served regularly with meals in social settings are considered the more permissive countries. These generally include the Mediterranean countries such as Spain, France, Italy, and Greece. Most European countries, however, have a more relaxed attitude regarding teenage drinking compared with the United States, and the laws allow for drinking under the age of 21 years.

Before one jumps to the conclusion that Europe's relaxed attitude is actually "healthier," consider the fact that rates of alcohol-related diseases are similar to or higher than the United States. The major concern with underage drinking is underage driving. Between 1970 and 1984 in U.S. history, when some states lowered their drinking age, alcohol-related motor vehicle fatalities increased among teenagers. This has never been as big a problem in Europe for two reasons. Europeans do not obtain their driver's licenses until the age of 21 years, and Europeans rely more heavily on public transportation because of the higher cost of automobiles and fuel and also because the public transportation system is more accessible.

When a person lives in one culture and then moves to another culture, culture adaptation must take place in order to survive in the new country successfully. In the United States, the drinking age is 21 years. Consequently, if you promote adolescent drinking by permitting your teenager to drink alcohol or by serving alcohol to your teen and his or her friends in your home, you are breaking the law. If the police catch you giving alcohol to minors, they will likely not be interested in your cultural history. Set an example for your children of how to be law abiding. You can still demonstrate how alcohol is used when you participate in a traditional celebration or festival. Thus, you can be a role model, showing the responsible use of alcohol. Discuss with your teen why it is not appropriate to drink under the age of 21 years in this culture, and share your ideas and values with him or her. Listen to the adolescent's opinions and concerns (Question 78 discusses how to talk with your children).

My teenage child is taking a class trip to Germany where drinking is permitted. Is that a problem?

Parents often feel conflicted between wanting their children to spread their wings and be independent and their fears that their children are too young and naive to be trusted. Parents are also wary of trusting how other people might influence their children. A potential recipe for disaster is the lenient drinking and drug laws in foreign countries and unsupervised groups of young people. The rising popularity of spring-break excursions has led to a growth in trip planners with websites specifically catering to this type of trip. Although the advertisers do not specifically condone the use of alcohol or drugs among students, they promote the use of these substances by advertising that anyone 18 years old or older can drink alcohol legally and that the liquor laws are rarely enforced in many of those countries. They also encourage students to check out Amsterdam, which is advertised as a "pot-smokers' paradise" because of the liberal drug laws.

The concerns about your children drinking in a foreign country are valid. The risk of binge alcohol and drug use is high among teens. The accompanying high-risk behaviors that result from these activities can ruin a child's future and may take a child's life. The general feeling on the part of the child is "that won't happen to me." Part of the focus then is to explain that your child will be surrounded by a lot of people who will be out of control and who your child has no control over. We assume that if we are safe drivers our risk of having an automobile accident is very low. Although it is low, we still have no control

over other people's driving behavior, and those other people kill us at alarming rates. Exposing children to that concept may help to a certain degree. Here is some further advice to parents:

• Do your homework, and know as much about the trip as you can.

• Participate with school officials and the children in planning the trip.

• Know how many chaperones there will be for the number of students who will be going. The suggested ratio is two adults to every seven or eight children. Each chaperone should be assigned to specific children who they are expected to accompany, even if it is late at night. Parents should get to know the chaperones before the trip so that they feel comfortable that these people will be accountable for each child's welfare. The chaperones should assign each child to a buddy. Each buddy is responsible for the other.

• Volunteer to be a chaperone.

• Review with your child the safety rules about drinking and driving.

• Warn them not go with strangers away from the student group. Students should stay close to the people they know and trust.

• Tell your children to be cautious. Parents must be candid with their children about their worries and concerns.

• Provide alternative activities or vacations for students, such as family trips or working for humanitarian organizations such as Habitat for Humanity as a volunteer.

• If you are not comfortable with the school plan for a trip abroad, then just say no to your child. It may be difficult, but you probably will not regret it.

 
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