An interesting advice column on “my teenager is drinking” issue recently. A Mother found her 16 year old son had been drinking at a friend’s family event and wanted to know what to do about it.
Keep the relationship open
The advice was good – try to keep a real and trusting relationship with your teenager while tackling the drinking issue and setting boundaries.
I’ve had the “Teenager is drinking” problem myself
I’ve had this problem myself. My then 16 year went to a friend’s 16th birthday party, where the parents pointed to a slab of beer and said “help yourself”. Initially I did not handle it well. I said
“ you do know that when a teenager is drinking it is illegal, and they are breaking the law “
Report to the Police
She was terrified I was going to report the parent to the police! Eventually when I calmed down, we had a good conversation about teenage drinking. I even sympathised with her that it was very difficult not to drink in Irish society at just 16. She was adamant none of the other parents had a problem the way I did.
She was into sports at the time so we agreed she would use that as an excuse to only drink one or two drinks on very special occasions. We also agreed that if she did get into trouble she would ring me and I would come collect her. So as a single parent, this meant I could not drink when she was out in case I had to go collect her.
No friends to the house
That all seemed ok. Until I noticed her friends never came to the house to get ready for nights out. It turned out, unless they were allowed drink they were not coming to the house. This went on for two years.
A big night out
I was away for work one weekend and she wanted to invite friends over prior to a big night out. I was not too comfortable with a gang of teenagers in the house while I was not there. No other house was available that night. So I agreed if there was no drinks and they had no other option they could use the house. This seemed to be ok.
A plaintive plea
Then while I was away, I got these emotional phone calls. All the friends were saying they would not come, unless they were allowed drink. Initially, I held my ground but she was really upset and felt she would be ostracised. Yes, I know teenagers can over dramatise but the friends had not been in our house prior to a night out for nearly 2 years at this stage.
Spoke to colleagues
My colleagues noticed I was taking all these long phone calls and asked what was up. Their response surprised me. They said to ask her what would she do if some of the friends drank too much and caused trouble. My daughter’s response was very direct.
“Rub their face in the vomit and use their dresses to clean it up”
So chatting to the friends again, we agreed it seemed like my daughter would be responsible and maybe I should take a risk. I was still very nervous. At that time, as a single parent I felt like my parenting skills were always under scrutiny. Accusations could be raised
“You let a group of 17 to 18 year olds drink unsupervised in your house”
Party Time for 17 year olds
I knew there would be a bad impact on my relationship with my daughter if I did not let her go ahead. So against my better judgement I decided to take the risk. All her friends came, they had a great time and when I got home the next day, the house was cleaner then I’d left it. My daughter was delighted and felt like I actually trusted her.
Keep listening and talking
We’ve had lots of good conversations about drinking since, including my own drinking! I really did miss not being able to have a nice glass of beer when she was out. It forced me to look at how I used alcohol to relax.
I know many parents have a much more liberal attitude to drinking and maybe this would not be a problem for them at all. All the research shows though that the younger you are when you start drinking the more likely you are to have a drink problem and to move on to other drugs. Other parents will think I was mad to let a group of teenagers drink unsupervised in my home.
What’s right and wrong is not always clear
So I think the key lesson for me in this was to keep listening and tease out “what if” with my daughter. Understanding her as a young person who was strong minded, reliable, conscientious and could be trusted meant I could take a risk. Maybe it’s not the same for other parents if their teenager is drinking. In which case they need to look at other solutions.
The key lesson
As the article says if your teenager is drinking
“The situation needs a long-term steady and reasonable approach that sets your son up as the self-managing person, you hope he will become.
I think this applies not just to young people but to us all. We need a long term steady and reasonable approach to managing our drinking. We can’t change the habits of a lifetime overnight.
For quick tips on how to get started take a look at this post.
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