Children are coming home from school asking if they can go out, can they drink, can they drink at home? Just the one??
It's a question that haunts the minds of parents all over Ireland as Wednesday looms. Children are coming home from school asking if they can go out, can they drink, can they drink at home? Just the one?? Can they have their friends over for a couple of cans - nothing too heavy, no spirits in fairness...
In fairness, kids are under pressure to drink. Some of that pressure is from their friends, some of it from us and our drink obsessed culture, and some of it from their parents. Parents pressure each other, albeit unwittingly and without malice, and some pressure their kids and that's definitely unwittingly and absolutely without malice.
Contrary to popular belief, and somewhat counter-intuitively, there is no evidence that allowing kids to drink at home reduces the chances of them developing into problem drinkers. In fact, a growing body of evidence appears to say the opposite. This is likely due to the issue of boundary setting and role modelling more than the actual alcohol and 'getting used to it' thing.
The logic and the red herrings:
We think that drinking at home is a controlled environment - that's true. So do we want kids to drink safely in a controlled environment? Yes. Great.
BUT: do kids see that as fun and daring or mad crack? No. So if we let them drink at home, what will likely happen is they will then go out and drink more on top of what you've already allowed them to have. Furthermore, any normal teenager will push the boundaries and have a sneaky shot or an extra can above what you've allowed. Because that's what normal teenagers do. It's practically their job!
Another logic we have is that they'll trust us more if we allow them to drink with us. That might be true. It's an ideal situation and it works for some parents. For others they will find that the teen simply takes advantage - because again, that's their job - and this leads to whatever behaviour you're trying to accommodate to become out of control. Whatever we give a child or teen, they will want more.
And a lot of teens will not respect their parents more for allowing them to drink. They will at some level wonder how safe this is. Why is my parent OK with breaking the law? Does my parent (or my friend's parent) have any clue what's really going? These are questions I have heard teen clients ponder aloud, often.
Parents are told that other parents are allowing their kids to drink at home, or even outside the home - and here's the thing - some of them are. But each parent must feel empowered and free to make that choice for themselves. Every family is different, and has a different set of boundaries. You get to decide what is best for your child. You don't have to do what other parents are doing. You don't have to do what I'm suggesting either. Different from you does not necessarily mean better than you. Please do remember that.
Another red herring is the rite of passage one: drinking in Ireland is a rite of passage yes. We all know it, most of us have done it. I have - and I will never touch Vodka again. Ever. A lot of us have difficulty as adults with binging. A lot of us have difficulty and we're not even aware of it. But does this mean that we sit back and throw the hands up and say "Sure that's teens for ya! It was bound to happen - I did it too! "? Or is that simply avoiding the responsibility that comes with "adulting"? ( I love that that's a new word!)
Have things changed?
Society has changed yes. For the better in most ways - we live in very exciting times despite all the complaints we have. But the dynamics of parenting and the basics of raising healthy kids remain the same and always will. Perhaps we know more about that now than we used to.
We know, for example, that teens rebel - we know that we should hope for it in fact. It's such a wonderful part of teen energy - annoying though it can be! But if they've nothing to fight against then how are they to tell what's OK and acceptable and healthy and what isn't? If your teen gets caught drinking or behaving poorly because of drink ignore this at your (and more importantly, at their) peril. If there are no consequences, just a chat or a giggle, I can promise you it will happen again, and probably in a more dramatic way. Because that's how we're built. Your child won't think you're awesome and cool for 'getting' that the drink culture is all pervasive. They're not thinking about you and your parenting - they're thinking about the next time they can party.
So all they learn from the giggle is that this behaviour is acceptable, at best. At worst, and I've seen this too, they learn 'my parents don't care'. I recall a girl telling me a couple of years ago that her parents bought her a slab of beer for her celebration night so that she could celebrate safely at home with her friends. She rolled her eyes annoyed and said "Jesus, I mean a bit of parenting would be nice!".
That might sound made-up but it really happened - and has been echoed in various ways by many teens I work with. There are a several parents I know who threaten to test their kids for alcohol and drugs and these kids are relieved because now they have the perfect excuse to tell their friends "I can't drink that shoulder of vodka on that bus, thanks very much. My parents are such b&^tards though... ".
That's their job, to complain about you and push against your boundaries. Our job as adults is to set the rules. Expect them to be broken! Don't take it personally when that happens. Then we issue consistent consequences and start again.
If your teen's "rite of passage" misdemeanours are amusing then have the giggles with your friends! Some of the funniest nights I've had with my friends are hearing stories being swapped of the antics their teens get up to and think they've gotten away with. But in front of your teen be OK with being tough. Approachable yes, but boundaried. A parent who "gets" what's normal but doesn't necessarily allow or facilitate it.
So should you allow them to drink on results night? I
'm going to go with no. Even though in truth, I hate the word "should". That doesn't mean they won't. But it means they know that you are concerned about them, their bodies and their mental health. That we are all part of a society. A society that is governed by law and that wants to keep kids safe and healthy. And then if and when they drink and you catch them, you decide what the consequences will be. Then you all move onto the next challenge which won't be far around the corner!
It will all be over in a few years. You can have a laugh with them about it then for sure. Good luck guys!