For decades drinking was seen as a “boy-thing.” It was expected that boys would experience pressures to drink. It was even seen as a rite of passage for adolescent boys to drink and drink often. However, the recent trends show girls drinking at a higher rate than boys. Adolescent girls are drinking at rates that equal their male counterparts. The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse (CASA) found that over a decade a nearly 10 point spread between 10th grade girls and boys closed to a 2 point difference. This increase in female drinking is a challenge for Christian youth workers.
The American Medical Association (AMA) says that this increase is a result of “the alcohol industry’s aggressive promotion of sweet fruity drinks.” These drinks appeal to girls and are one of the fastest growing market areas for the alcohol industry. Studies by Georgetown University also show a rise in alcohol advertising in at least 103 national magazines read by underage girls by 216%. Girls also watch shows like Rock of Love, Flavor of Love, Bad Girls Club, Laguna Beach, and The Hills, where drinking is showcased as limitless fun. This climate is creating girls who see drinking as normal and sophisticated.
Faced with these stats what are youth workers to do? We could silently sit by and pretend that kids who come to youth groups don’t drink. We could also pretend that our youth are not being targeted by a damaging market. By doing that girls are left at risk for sexual assault, addiction, and other disorders. Action must be taken to help Christian girls see what is at risk by a past-time that is promoted as harmless and fun.
- Start a conversation about the culture of the students. Know their perceptions about drinking at their school. Don’t preach just listen. Find out what resources are available for being alcohol free in the community.
- See it as an opportunity for ministry. Honest conversation and teaching will attract teens teetering on the edge of a dangerous lifestyle choice. They may not be the easiest population to reach but the nature of youth ministry to help all teens; not just the easy ones.
- Teach teens to see the culture for what it is. They are not too young to grasp concepts like hermeneutics when they can see how it fits into their culture. Analyze alcohol advertisements, ad placement in gas/grocery stores in the community, and create a plan for how to deal with any discouraging finds.
- Find a way to talk to parents. Many parents do not know the extent of alcohol’s effects on their families/communities. The most common place for teens to get alcohol is from their home. Give them a chance to step up and create a new culture among adults that esteem restraint and pro-active parenting.
A church that chooses to disengage from this problem when it is the number one killer of teens in the United States are throwing adolescents into the jaws of addiction, self-hatred, and despair. A mantra of the Church, for as long as I can remember, has been that Christ meets people where they are. If the Church still believes that then there are conversations that youth need to have with their trusted adults in order for them to see Christ in us. To shy away from these difficult issues, leaves teens vulnerable and wondering why Christianity is relevant to them today.