Unfortunately, statistics are easy to manipulate and misinterpret. MADD (Mothers Against Drunk Driving) has played with recent SAMHSA statistics about where teens get their alcohol, announcing 26 percent get it from a parent or family member. The headlines in newspapers and blogs repeat the frightening phrase, while reporters forget to check the numbers. (We provided those numbers in our article “Where do kids get their alcohol?” last year and updated it in January 2012.) With all due respect, we think MADD is pointing in the wrong direction.
Please, let’s not forget, it is legal in two-thirds of the US for parents to provide alcohol to their own children in their own home. In the overwhelming majority of cases, these are not abusive circumstances but educational, religious or cultural. In many states, other family members over 21 are also permitted to serve alcohol to minors. That includes siblings, grandparents and spouses. Yes, spouses, because 18 year olds can marry.
Of course, MADD isn’t claiming that 26 percent of all teens ages 12 to 20 are given alcohol
to drink by a family member. The chart is accurate in stating that, looking only at the teens who drank recently, 26 percent received the alcohol from parents and family members over 21. However, MADD conveniently left out how small that base is: 26.3 percent. Only 26.3 percent of teens drank anything in the past 30 days. So, the chart appears to overdramatize the problem. The true number is 6.8 percent (26 percent of the 26.3 percent who drink) of teens 12 to 20 get alcohol from parents and family members.
Instead, we should be focusing on blatant illegal activities. Using the same SAMHSA statistics, for example,”Nearly one-third of current alcohol users aged 12 to 20 (30.6 percent) paid for the last alcohol they used.” (“Where do kids get their alcohol?”) Selling booze to teens is a crime in every state. So is giving it to them if you’re not a relative.
As for the two-thirds of teens who received alcohol for free, almost two-thirds (61.1 percent) were given it by someone unrelated. (“Where do kids get their alcohol?”) Almost twice as many teens (11.2 percent) get alcohol from unrelated people of all ages as get it from family members. So, why are we focusing on and demonizing parents?
Mark Twain said it best, “There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics.” Let’s try to find the truth in how – and more importantly why – teens are drinking.