Parenting Around Alcohol: A Funny Story That Happened To Me

Dr. Delaney Ruston – It is fair to say that I have been driving my family batty over the past year and a half while making Screenagers Under The Influence because I have been living and breathing all substance-related topics. 

I am always chomping at the bit to share with my college-age kids and my husband the new science I uncover and things related to the stories in the film. I do try to hold back, and I give myself about B+ for my efforts (my husband just told me he would give me a “C,” and I said, Really that low?! He said, “I’m a hard grader.” )

Let me give an example of how my substance-shaded glasses have influenced me. Last week was Chase’s 24th birthday. He was at college, and friends picked him up in the morning to surprise him with different activities. 

I was in Seattle with my husband and Tessa, who was home for Spring Break. Halfway through the day, we called Chase, who was with his friends, to wish him a happy birthday and had the phone on speaker as we walked on busy streets near the University of Washington in Seattle. 

Here is how the conversation went:

Us: ” How is it going?”

Chase: ” It’s fun. My friends got me, and we started by getting drunk at Alice’s Restaurant.”

Us: “Then what?”

Chase: ”We tried to go rock climbing but had to abort that.”

Eventually, we all said goodbye. 

Once off the phone, I said the following to Peter and Tessa: 

“Well, good thing one of his friends never drinks, so they don’t even have to take an Uber. And I guess they couldn’t rock climb because they were too drunk.”

“Mom, what are you talking about?” asked Tessa

“Well, they got drunk at Alice’s restaurant, and clearly, that is why they had to stop rock climbing.”

“No, Mom, they got BRUNCH at Alice’s, NOT drunk.” 

“Oh, wow, I got that wrong. Why couldn’t they rock climb?”

“It had been raining too much, so it was unsafe.” 

“Oops, I got that all wrong!”

April is Alcohol Awareness Month, and I propose we use it as a time not to be overly fixated on the topic, a la my example, but to use it as a time to have one or two calm conversations. 

In making our new film, when asking teens what topics their parents had discussed with them regarding alcohol, we got one main answer:

“If ever the issue of possible drinking and driving comes up, or other issues with alcohol, call us, and we will come and get you.” This is an important thing to discuss, by all means.

This week I propose to talk with kids and students about messages about alcohol that come up in our digital world. 

  1. Shows: alcohol images and references are ever present in many of the shows our kids watch. 

    A few years back, the CDC published a study that analyzed the frequency of alcohol in  top-ranked shows by 15-year-old boys. The researchers found that alcohol was either shown or mentioned on average 20.9 times per hour in TV-14-rated shows. Twenty-one times per hour! 

    The study won CDC’s Student Research Paper Contest and would be excellent to discuss not just with our kids but with students or with sport team members for any coaches reading this.
  2. Music videos: Taylor Swift is wonderful, no doubt about that. I recently watched two of her most popular new music videos and noticed how they have alcohol in them (Anti-Hero and Bejeweled). Consider watching one or both of these and discussing the alcohol in the videos. In one of them, she appears to be trying to drown her sorrows with a bottle of wine. Let’s talk about emotions and drinking! 
  3. Social media. In Screenagers Under The Influence, we show a staggering data point: the drink, White Claw, has benefited tremendously from all the posts people put up of them holding cans of the drink. In fact, 4 billion impressions of the drink have been created by social media users thus far. 

One final note:  We repeatedly hear from people who have seen our just released film, Screenagers Under The Influence, that it has so much helpful information that parents had no idea of.  And viewers are telling us they get many helpful ideas on how to parent around alcohol (and a host of other substances and behaviors). The film is for 6th graders on up, and kids tell us they learned so much and find the film super engaging. 

What we love hearing, because we worked hard to ensure this, is that people say there is nothing judgy in the film–it is loving and helpful. Yeah, mission accomplished! 

Check out our website to learn how to see the film or bring it to your school, workplace, religious community, after-school program, etc. There you will also find some upcoming screenings that may be in your neck of the woods. 

Questions to get the conversation started:

1. Which shows do you see or hear the mention of alcohol a lot? 

2. If you happened to see Taylor Swift’s recent music videos, did you note the alcohol in those music videos?

3. Have you ever seen anyone holding a white claw drink can on social media? What about other alcoholic drinks?