Dear Rabbi Horowitz:
As the parents of three teenage boys, we are frightened each Purim that our kids will drink heavily and, chas v’shalom, get violently ill – or worse, get hurt in a car crash.
What are your thoughts on the Purim drinking “scene,” and what can we do as parents when our kids tell us to, “Chill out, everyone is doing it (drinking)?”
Dovid and Chanie
Rabbi Horowitz Responds
Dear Dovid and Chanie:
I commend you for being hands-on parents and wanting to become more educated on this subject. I have found over the years that the cognitive dissonance in our community is such a powerful force that many or most parents are blissfully unaware about the level of drinking and smoking among our teenagers. What is far more dangerous is that our street-smart teenagers are very well aware of that fact.
For over a decade, The Center for Alcohol and Substance Abuse (C.A.S.A. – www.casacolumbia.org) has conducted dozens of studies on the dangers of teen smoking and drinking, and what techniques are most effective in preventing these scourges. Here are two of the most powerful findings of their voluminous research:
1) “A child who gets through age 21 without smoking, using illegal drugs or abusing alcohol is virtually certain never to do so.”
2) “Teens who smoke cigarettes are 12 times likelier to use marijuana and more than 19 times likelier to use cocaine.”
With statistics like these, it is unfortunate that we have not done more to stop the rising tide of teen drinking and smoking. Rabbi Dr. Abraham Twerski, shlita, one of the most visionary and courageous people of our time, has been speaking about this subject for decades. He pleads with educators and parents to put an end to this plague adversely affecting our kids.
Thankfully, people are starting to take notice. Over the past few years, there has been a trend toward alcohol-free Purim parties, less adults offering children drinks, and an overall awareness regarding the dangers of teen drinking. But we still have a very long way to go.
When I mention drinking, I am not discussing having a glass of wine or even a small drink of whiskey. From my vantage point, there are two acceptable schools of thought regarding (older) teens and alcohol. One is to completely ban its use, while others claim that adults can show teenagers who are above the legal drinking age that drinking in moderation is OK by modeling appropriate behavior. I believe that either of those approaches is reasonable. But allowing kids – especially minors – to smoke and/or get flat-out drunk on Purim is simply unwise.
From the standpoint of both halachah and minhag (Jewish law and accepted practice, respectively), there is absolutely no basis for smoking of any kind as it relates to Purim. Case closed!
Drinking, on the other hand, does have a substantive source in halachah. Our chazal (sages) note that on Purim, one is “obligated to reach a state where one cannot discern (ad d’lo yoda) between [the wicked] Haman and [the blessed] Mordechai. Additionally, there are established minhagim in many kehilos for people – even distinguished talmidei chachamim – to drink heavily on Purim. So how can one arrive at the conclusion that one should not engage in heavy drinking on Purim? The answer is that our chazal clearly indicate that one can fulfill the requirement of ad d’lo yoda by drinking in moderation and then napping – because when one is sleeping, he cannot discern between Haman and Mordechai.
In light of the current challenging times and the dramatic increase over the past 10-15 years of the number of our teens who are drinking regularly, it may be appropriate for even those with the minhag to drink heavily on Purim to strongly consider asking their rav whether it is wise to continue this practice.
It is extraordinarily difficult to try getting your teens to buck peer pressure, and there is a stage in their lives when you cannot make these choices for them. And that is why it is encouraging that so many yeshivos have gone to alcohol-free Purim gatherings. But as parents, research clearly indicates that the two factors that help children make good choices and resist the seduction of these dangerous vices are parents who “get it” – those who are knowledgeable about the dangers that their children face – and parents who consistently speak to their children about avoiding these substances.
In a Jewish Press column I ran last year on Purim drinking, I mentioned a study on teen drug and alcohol use that was commissioned by school district superintendents and elected officials in affluent suburban areas of New York City. They were alarmed by the growing incidence of substance abuse in their communities, and puzzled by the fact that during the same time period drug use was dropping dramatically in the inner city.
Research revealed that the inner-city parents and schools were succeeding in reversing the trend of rising drug use because they were far more realistic in their assessment of the facts on the ground than were the more affluent suburbanites. Inner-city schools had “healthy living” curricula in the very early grades and hard-hitting substance abuse prevention programs beginning as early as the middle school grades. Parents regularly spoke to their children (as early as ages five and six) about the dangers of smoking, drinking and drug use. Affluent suburbanites, on the other hand, were oblivious to the realities of drug use among the kids in their own communities. In fact, most suburban teens interviewed for the study felt that their parents were “clueless” as to the number of kids who were “using” and the hard-core nature of the substances that were being used. Inner-city kids, meanwhile, reported that they felt their parents “really get it.”
Ironically, the fact that we, baruch Hashem, shelter our children from the secular world may add an element of risk to them taking up smoking and drinking. Why? Because we, as parents, may have the mindset of the suburban parents noted above that think their kids are immune to these dangers. Further, our children do not hear all the public health commercials and school awareness campaigns alerting children to the dangers of smoking and drinking. I am certainly not advocating that we overexpose our children to the secular world so that they hear “smoking-is-not-cool” or “this-is-your-brain-on-drugs” advertisements. But we need to be aware of the fact that our kids are not hearing this important information. And it is our job to share these messages with them – early and often.
For years, I have been writing columns in this newspaper bemoaning the fact that we are paying a steep price for reducing or entirely discouraging recreational/sports activities for normal, healthy teenagers who badly need exercise. One of the things driving me batty is when parents and/or educators excuse away drinking and smoking by explaining that, “The boys have a brutal schedule and need to blow a little steam.”
My response usually is, “Hello! Did you ever hear of a basketball?”
Best wishes for a safe, enjoyable and meaningful Purim.
© 2008 Rabbi Yakov Horowitz, all rights reserved.
Rabbi Yakov Horowitz is the founder and dean of Yeshiva Darchei Noam of Monsey, and the director of Project Y.E.S. To purchase Rabbi Horowitz’s d’var Torah sefer, Growing With theParsha, or his popular parenting tapes and CDs – including his 2-CD set on “Raising your Adolescent Children” – please visit www.rabbihorowitz.com, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org, or call 845-352-7100 x 133.
Rabbi Yakov Horowitz