Whether we like it or not, there are situations in parenting where the “right” reply isn’t going to cut it. And drinking is one of the most difficult for parents because we often drink ourselves and our kids see ads for it all over the place. So imagine you have a 15-year-old daughter who tells you in detail about a friend’s drinking. You take the standard line: “Drinking is illegal. You shouldn’t do it.” But your kid knows this. Your answer doesn’t give her a way to deal with the complexity of the situation. So she stops talking to you about the very real, difficult problem she’s trying to figure out.
It’s critical that our children know we have a strong moral framework and that framework guides how we live our lives and how we parent. But it’s just as critical that we help our children navigate situations where applying these morals is not only tough but sometimes requires nuance. You want your child to come to you with problems overall. You don’t want her thinking you are so inflexible that you’re useless to her.
So what can you say to her that doesn’t come across as if you’ll look the other way if you see a FB photo of her with a wine cooler in her hand? We have to start earlier than when our kids are dealing with their friends drinking. We need to have a clear conversation about drinking as in:
Now that you’re 13 (or look like a teen) it’s going to be more likely for you to be in situations where people are drinking (or doing drugs, if this is the case). We have people in our family who have had addiction problems. What that means is that there’s a good chance that if you drink or do drugs they’ll have more power over you than someone else. I also need you to know that if you do it and the police or your school gets involved, you’re going to have to deal with the consequences.
As they get older those concrete rules become the backdrop for the much more complex situations they get into when they’re older. So now you’re dealing with your 15-year-old daughter who is asking you what to do about her friend. Even the sage advice of, “Call me if you’re ever in a bad situation and I’ll come pick you up. You won’t get in trouble” isn’t enough. It’s hard for anyone, let alone a teen, to be in a messed up social situation and understand where it could possibly lead. So I’d keep that for last and say something like this:
Thanks for telling me. I don’t want to assume anything so can you tell me what bothers you the most about it? Then, can you walk me through how these things usually happen because there’s usually a pattern to it and if you figure that out you can see the warning signs before you really don’t like what’s going on. And remember, you can always call me to come pick up you up. No matter what the time or how far away it is.
By the way, what usually bothers teens about their friends’ drinking is this: How “fake” people act when they’re drunk. How they make fools of themselves like the girl who drinks too much and then throws herself on an ex-boyfriend, or the decent guys she knows who become rude and belligerent. They don’t like being forced to put up with it, being the uptight one or losing their social circle.
Get to this point with your kid and you’re having a conversation that’s much more meaningful about how alcohol and drugs are used and abused - instead of simply searching for the “right” answer.
How have you taken the “just say no” conversation to the next level with your kids? Post a comment and tell me.