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Parents could avoid under-age alcohol abuse by parenting

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When your child is dropped at home and can’t actually walk to the front door because he is so drunk, should you be worried? Especially when you thought he was going out to the movies with his friends.
by GILLIAN KLAWANSKY | Sep 06, 2018

Some parents do, and some don’t.

“What’s really problematic for us is that parents are turning a blind eye,” says Rabbi Craig Kacev, the General Director of the South African Board of Jewish Education. “Many parents, at times, are even supplying it to other people’s kids, they’re allowing these drinking binges and parties to happen inside their homes, which essentially makes them responsible legally. Allowing underage drinking in their homes or providing the alcohol is a criminal offence.”

This may not be a new issue, but the fact is that underage drinking is a huge problem – and the Jewish community is far from immune. Schools and psychologists argue that the problem comes down to parenting.

While schools do all they can, underage drinking is not something they can completely control. “As King David Schools, of course we’re against it, it’s underage and it’s illegal. We have programmes in both our high schools, Victory Park and Linksfield, that attempt to educate children about the dangers of underage drinking,” says Kacev. “Schools can be responsible for what takes place during school hours, but this is largely happening over weekends, where students are under parents’ guardianship and responsibility.”

Marc Falconer, the Principal of Herzlia High School in Cape Town, acknowledges the severity of the problem. “Binge drinking for teenagers is a considerable problem, and that’s probably the case at every school,” he says. “We talk about it in guidance classes, which is helpful.

“We also have an excellent counselling department, and we pick up individuals who have overindulged. If there are parties we know about, we can also intervene.”

King David Schools have called parents asking them to cancel parties where alcohol will be served. “The social pressure, though, is such that’s it almost impossible for kids, at some point, not to experiment,” says Falconer. “Drinking is much more of a danger than drugs and smoking, because it’s just so pervasive, socially acceptable, and available. It’s therefore more difficult to combat.”

Yeshiva College says, “We’re keenly aware of the challenge our community faces on the issue of underage abuse of alcohol. This isn’t something unique to our community, but is a growing issue prevalent amongst teenagers worldwide.

“While substance abuse is a challenge that falls outside of the direct jurisdiction of a school, we certainly see it as our role to educate our learners and parents about the dangers of substance abuse – particularly at this critical stage of their growth, where cognitive development can be impaired.”

Falconer urges parents to take control. “Often parents will succumb to pressure from their kids, especially when the kids are 16 or 17. They’ll say everyone’s doing it, and no-one will come if there’s no alcohol. So parents might say, ‘You can each have one beer’, and then kids come in with bottles of vodka because you’ve essentially given them permission to drink – just not too much. It blurs things.”

Even if parents don’t supply the alcohol, they’re complicit when they don’t take action. “They’re allowing their children to go to these parties and hoping for the best,” says Kacev. “We know that many kids have landed up in hospital from many schools across town.

“What real disaster are parents waiting for before they wake up and realise that they’re allowing their children to engage in very dangerous behaviour?”

While King David has repeatedly tried to engage parents on the issue, it has had a limited impact. “Sending out letters doesn’t seem to illicit a responsible approach from many parents. Others are taking heed, but they’re still allowing their kids to go to these parties.”

It’s not just a problem in homes, it’s arguably institutional in our community.

King David primary schools have urged parents not to serve alcohol at Batmitzvahs and Barmitzvahs. “Even if they put it only on the adult table, nothing is stopping the child from accessing the alcohol. We need to get the community to think about more responsible behaviour.”

Clinical psychologist Lana Levin agrees. “I work extensively in addiction, and many people will tell you when they come into recovery that their first experience of drinking was at the age of 11 or 12. Jewish kids go to barmis and batis and they’re being exposed to alcohol when they’re very young.”

Yet what can schools do? “If its code of conduct allows for it, it’s something a school could get involved in if there is a clear-cut case of parents or a child providing alcohol for other children,” says Kacev. “If witnesses came forward, it could allow King David Schools to expel a child because that child is committing a criminal act and is allowing other children to do so as well.”

Levin, who specialises in teens, says drinking is largely about fitting in. She also speaks of sober shaming, where kids are ridiculed for not drinking. “It depends on the nature of the child. Some kids want to lead, and are less likely to succumb to peer pressure. Others will follow, as they’ll sacrifice themselves on every level just to belong. Then, you have kids who want to fit in, but don’t feel they have to sacrifice themselves in order to do that. They generally do best in such a social environment.”

The biggest problem, according to Levin, who is also a parent of teens, is the erosion of parent-child relationships. “Kids feel they can’t talk to their parents about what’s going on. So, teens get into trouble and don’t have an adult to guide them. There aren’t limitations, and there’s also little trust on both sides.

“Everything is on social media, and parents are losing touch with who their children are. Parents need to spend more time building relationships with kids by doing little things like wifi-free meals. They need times when they connect with their kids and find out what went on during their day. Parents also have to know where their kids are going and who they’re with whether they’re 15 or 18.”

“It’s not a school’s job to parent their children,” she says. “Their job is to educate and teach. The line between what a school is traditionally supposed to do and what parents expect the school to be doing is blurred. Parents are becoming lazy in terms of parenting.”

Kacev echoes this. “Parents need to strengthen up, and play their role. They must either not allow their children to go to these parties, or put pressure on other parents to stop this criminal behaviour.”

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