Mar 5, 2014

Alcohol and the Church

by John Vlainic

Last evening I attended a Hamilton event (sponsored by the city's Public Health Department, the police, and school boards) on "What Can Parents Do To Prevent Underage Drinking - and How Alcohol Affects the Teenage Brain." The 2010 death of a city teen who died from alcohol poisoning had resulted in an inquest and recommendations and studies and now some actions and educational tools. It was so moving to hear his mother say a word to the gathering.

I was there trying to listen for any indicators from the health community re: whether we, as a faith group, do more good by having a "rule" against drinking (= recommending total abstinence) or by educating well, helping people to make their own decisions, and advocating great care with a dangerous substance.

I didn't get any "news-bite" things that could easily help us. But I did learn a great deal about the development of the teenage brain (this was the focus of the main speaker).

As you probably know, it is illegal in Ontario for someone under the age of 19 to drink alcohol or for their parents to provide it for them or to allow them to bring it into their home.

The main part of the evening was spent presenting 6 Research-based strategies to help parents to work with their teen/young adults regarding alcohol.

Again and again we heard about the process (well into the 20's) whereby the frontal lobe (where reasoning and the capacity to make thoughtful choices)of the young brain is being developed. Repeatedly we heard how parents who use "rules" or "tell" their teen/young adult what they MUST or MUST NOT do,DO NOT HELP the young person to develop their frontal lobe, their capacity to learn to work into decisions using reason.

The stress was on helping teens to develop the ability to make thoughtful decisions. This requires much more emphasis on benefits (to them and to people they love) than on bad consequences.

Again and again we heard how important it is to ask teens "judgment" questions rather than fact questions. I.e., "Tell me what you did today" is useless (we all know that), whereas "Tell me the most disgusting thing that happened at school today" or "Tell me the best thing that happened at school today" push them to evaluate and make judgments. The latter kind of questions help them to develop their frontal lobes (which are developing into their 20's).

We also heard that the appropriate sharing of "kernels of wisdom" can be helpful-if they are not presented as though we are exercising "authority" over them.

These things were shared by a lecturer from OISE at U of T (who doesn't drink at all, but whose wife does).

I left thinking that:

-we DO need to point our people to good information about alcohol's damaging effects on the developing brain and potential dangers to everyone

-having a "rule" (or even saying we "advocate" abstinence) probably does nothing overall to help our people to help their teens/young adults to develop their frontal lobes well (where the capacity to reason thoughtfully into a decision takes place)

-we need to take out the "Rule" part in our Manual and simply point to the responsibility of Christ-followers to educate themselves about the dangers of alcohol (especially to teens/young adults) and to help one another to come to responsible decisions about its use. There are good materials we can point people to. I would be OK with us saying a bit MORE about alcohol -- but not by way of a "rule" for our people.

. . . . . . Some thoughts from a man who doesn't drink alcohol at all (except a few molecules when receiving communion with my Anglican friends).

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