Many parents allow their teens to consume alcohol. Commonly, this is based on a skewed logic pattern that allowing said consumption will make the teen “better” at drinking alcohol in college. Some take it a step further by furnishing both the alcohol and venue to make consumption more accessible. A toolkit. Awesome, right? Not so much.
First, a question: what does that really mean...to be “better” at drinking? Others trade out the phrase “better” with “more equipped”; semantics aside, the disconnect in logic is palpable and dangerous. Being “better” at or “more-equipped” to consume alcohol as a teenager is never constructive when viewed through the lens of widely-accepted scientific research. Yes, in the short-sighted throws of managing teens it is no doubt easier to allow than disallow consumption; a trade-off made to avoid conflict, keep better tabs on children and appear more “chill”. Warning: this can and often does become a deal with the Devil.
The opposite approach of not being an active participant in your teen’s alcohol consumption requires a steadfast commitment to avoid this “chill” parent phenomenon. It requires parents to zoom out and ask: how does “better” or “more-equipped” look long term in the health and vibrancy of my teen? Hint: not well. Teenage brain development is restricted by alcohol. Long term memory is adversely affected; alcohol fuels volatility and hostility, disrupts sleep patterns, and lends itself to depression and anxiety. Teens are significantly more likely to develop long term addictions and less likely to develop resiliency when alcohol enters their social regimens. When the relationship between alcohol and emotions is fostered, your child is stripped of their emotional framework to effectively withstand Hurricane Life. Teens need to experience and endure the full spectrum of emotions (happiness, sadness, disappointment, heartbreak) without the use of alcohol as a crutch.Permissive drinking creates the false illusion that its use is acceptable, expected and necessary; none of these are true. Not to mention it is illegal! Imagine the convoluted message your permission sends: certain laws are negotiable, ignore your health, and forget the long term game. Do you furnish cigarettes or marijuana to your teens, encourage them to speed in their car, plagiarize essays or steal? I could go on.
Still down to provide a keg and a basement for your teenage son and his bros?
Welcome to the Real World
As high schoolers enter their final years of living at home, many parents begin pumping the brakes on rules while increasing adult freedoms to better prepare them for the “real world”. College is not the “real world”. I would support this approach if your child was actually entering the “I’m an adult and I have bills to pay” world. Adult freedoms are for adults; they are warranted when the rent or mortgage is paid, full time and gainful employment is held, and autonomous responsibility and financial accountability for said actions and mistakes are demonstrated.
Your child already lives in the real world; we all do. This is their phase in the real world so should we willfully allow them to fast forward through it, or skirt it completely? As an adult and parent, it is well known that time is precious, in a don’t blink invaluable sort of way; each phase of it is vital and necessary, although seemingly awkward or painful at times. Why speed up time in this short life we live?
Just because 50 is the new 40 does not mean high school has to be the new college.
Another innocent landmine is the belief that it is no longer necessary to assertively monitor the actions, whereabouts and behaviors of your teen. Why? Older teens need more accountability and not less; it's a you can’t put lipstick on a pig, kind of thing. Gray is not a color that teens wear well; they need black and white contrast. Do this, not that. If you do this, that happens. They crave clear lines. Zeens (Google it) are more likely to engage in risky behaviors with more permanent consequences. Think DUI, think pregnancy, think medical marijuana cards and dealing drugs, think felony.
While I openly endorse assertive monitoring, I do recommend packaging it in such a way that eases conflict with your teen. Perhaps you create a contract. Or incentivize positive behaviors through earned freedoms. Whatever the case, be creative and collaborative. The short term reality is that you will be so annoying, the worst parent, the uncool mom. However, this short term cost is infinitely usurped by preventing potentially fatal errors and lapses in judgment that could leave you without a child to parent.
Would you rather be uncool with a healthy child or cool without one?
Friends are for Instagram
Mistakenly, many parents consider it timely and appropriate to begin transitioning from parent to friend while their children are still in high school. This well intentioned act makes it increasingly difficult to assert control when the child views their parent as a peer. Directives from peers are seen as purely optional advice. Your child has friends; you do not need to be one, at least not right now.
If you consider your teenager one of your best friends, please stop reading this and open Instagram or Facebook. Identify someone plus or minus five years of your age; that person is your friend. While you’re at it, check out your teen’s profile to see what they’re up to. Your child is your child, you are their parent; if they want to be friends with you it's because they're playing you. Seriously, if you need friends, look towards your own peer group and go out and meet people. Join a tennis club or a book club, or take a cooking class; befriend the parents of your child’s friends; do something. You, as a parent need and deserve a support system and outlet of your own! But it should not be vicariously through your own child.
Ten years ago when my wife and I were new residents of Southern California we knew no one so we joined a kickball league (I know, right?!); fast forward to present time...they are still some of our closest friends. Our OGs.
A Call to Action.
I urge you to collectively rein in the booze; allow your teen to live in their true phase of life; create clear expectations and manage behaviors carefully; parent your teen; and do it all out of, and with, love.
You’ve got this…