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Underage access to alcohol excess in Shanghai

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Why adolescents should be encouraged to approach drinking responsibly

Parenting in Shanghai is not easy. In addition to the regular challenges associated with parenting, raising a family in the city brings unique hurdles. One that is unfamiliar and unique to many parents is the ready availability of alcohol.

In 2006 China passed a law stating that the legal drinking age is 18, but it is rarely enforced. Compounding matters is the extent to which clubbing is engrained in the social life of the city, and the fact that Shanghai clubs rarely check for age.

There is no doubt that even if your teenager has not already consumed alcohol, he or she has had and will continue to have the opportunity to do so. If you have not begun an ongoing dialogue with your teenager about alcohol consumption, abuse, risks and your expectations and concerns regarding all the above, then you need to.

There are two basic schools of thought regarding the legislation of your child’s drinking: abstinence and openness. The abstinence approach involves informing your teenager of the risks involved, perhaps sharing some tragic anecdote, and concluding your conversation with, “… and this is why you CANNOT drink.” Frequently parents will levy a harsh penalty for violation of the no drinking rule, which is as effective at deterring teenagers from drinking as the death penalty is at deterring murders – i.e. not very.

The openness approach requires more effort, but is more effective. Do not be mistaken, it is not allowing your child to get drunk weekly. The goal is to have an open dialogue about alcohol and your child’s relationship to it, with the end result being responsible choices made by your child. It is not as simple as allowing your teenager to drink a glass of wine with the rest of the family during Sunday dinners and assuming you have taught them self-control, and it cannot be executed with a single conversation, or even ten. The openness approach must be a concerted, concentrated, organized and ongoing approach to educating your child about alcohol and the choices associated with alcohol culture.

The openness approach does not lack limits – in fact it necessitates them – however, it is different than the abstinence approach in that the limits are not ‘zero tolerance’ but more fluid and designed to encourage discussion, honesty and problem-solving. It recognizes that the thing deterring your child from making irresponsible decisions is not the prospect of losing their Xbox or extracurricular activities, but rather that of harming their relationship with you. The stronger the bonds between you and your child, the more likely they are to seek your advice and heed it when it’s given.

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