CONVERSATIONS FOR PARENTS: "Drinking – A Rite of Passage? When You and Your Spouse Disagree"
A mother and father disagree about the significance of their son’s drinking. Advice on the risks of alcohol use, united parenting and why it doesn’t pay to be the "cool" parent.
What the Experts Say: Many parents wrestle with the issue of underage drinking or marijuana use. Ideally, no parent wants their teen to drink or use drugs, but some parents are tempted to accept their teen’s use with the hope that the parent can better control it. So what are you to do? Here are some tips:
·There is no "safe" level of alcohol or drug use when it comes to teenagers. To keep your kids safe, adopt a "no use" policy. Make sure your kids know they are not allowed to drink at other people’s homes as well.
·As parents or caregivers, present a united front whenever possible, especially when it comes to issues regarding your teen’s safety and protection.
·If you disagree, try not to argue or discuss your conflict in front of your teen. If your teen knows you disagree, he/she may try to take advantage of the situation and play one parent off of another.
· Remember that your spouse has your child’s best interests at heart, even if you disagree. Try to talk when you are calm and be respectful. If you still can’t agree, seek out a third-party together (a trusted friend, minister or counselor) for guidance.
·Don’t send mixed messages by trying to "bargain" with your teen about drinking and other risky behaviors. Trying to limit use to a parent’s house or restrict driving tells your teen that drinking is okay, and puts him at risk.
·Forget about being the "cool" parent. Parents who are permissive have kids who are more likely to get into trouble, including traffic crashes and engaging in violence, sex and substance use.
·Make sure you model responsible behavior when it comes to alcohol.
·Know that in many states you are breaking the law if you provide alcohol to underage kids in your home.
·Monitor and address sources of alcohol and tobacco for teens in your community. Talk to school or city officials or other parents to learn more about where teens are getting these substances, including social sources (e.g. young adults) and commercial establishments.
Susan and Jeff, parents to 16-year-old son Sean, recently learned that he has been drinking at parties. Sue is concerned about her son but Jeff sees the partying as a harmless rite of passage. How can Sue convince Jeff that they need to step in?
SUSAN: Jeff, I want to talk some more about the situation with Sean and the drinking. I’m really concerned and I think we should talk to him about what’s going on.
JEFF: Sue, you’re fooling yourself if you think that kids aren’t going to drink. It’s part of being a teenager. We did it. I really don’t see what the big deal is, as long as he’s not driving.
SUSAN: How do we even know if he’s not driving if we don’t talk about it with him?
JEFF: I’m sure he’s not driving, he knows better. He’s getting older and I think some exposure to alcohol can help teach him how to drink responsibly. We’re doing the right thing here.
SUSAN: But by not saying anything to him, we’re basically telling him it’s okay to break the law and do who knows what else. What does that teach him?
JEFF: I think it shows him that we trust him to make the right decisions and to be responsible.
SUSAN: Jeff – that is a really slippery slope. If we allow him to drink, what else will he think is "okay" to do? Teens don’t drink "no matter what." We are his parents and we can influence his choices. It’s our responsibility to do that.
JEFF: It’s also our responsibility to be realistic about teenagers. The last thing we need with him right now is another heated argument.
SUSAN: It’s just that I think we are really neglecting our obligation to teach him about right and wrong. We drank and remember the kinds of situations we found ourselves in? We’re lucky nothing happened to us. We want better for our son.
JEFF: Sue, a lot of teenagers drink. Even the police know that!
SUSAN: All I’m saying is that, as his parents, we should be setting the bar higher. It’s our job. Alcohol is not risk-free. Teens process it differently than adults, it can affect their developing brain and there are all kinds of dangers involved.
JEFF: I think you’re exaggerating the risks.
SUSAN: I just read that the younger a person is exposed to alcohol, the more likely it is he’ll have social, mental or physical problems. Not to mention bad decisions from impaired judgment. It could really limit his potential. He needs to wait until he’s really a grown up – not just playing like one.
JEFF: Okay, okay. So what do you propose we do?
SUSAN: I think it’s important for us to be unified….we need to talk to him about our expectations and concerns. Let’s start a dialogue with him so he knows we’re plugged into his life and knows what the consequences are if he drinks again.
JEFF: Alright, we’ll try our best.
CTCADA offers both adolescent intervention and treatment programs. Education, individual counseling, family therapy, group counseling and referral to other resources are all part of a comprehensive effort to prevent or intervene in youth alcohol and drug abuse. Call us at 254-690-4455!