Friday, April 13, 2012

Drugs and Alcohol - What Would You Do?

A Kranz (wreath) of Kölsch beer.
A Kranz (wreath) of Kölsch beer. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
I was visiting with another mom yesterday and she asked me about teenagers and drinking.  "You've got teenagers.  What are your rules about drinking?  I have a friend who tells her kids it's simple, 'You can't do anything in our house that is illegal in society.'  I don't know that it's that black and white for me."  As a parent with a 13 and 15 year old, I feel like I should have had  a ready answer for her.  As with most things though, I make things up as I go and so far legal or illegal altering substances have not been an issue with our kids.

As we talked further, I realized that I have shared some real life opinions on the topic of drugs and alcohol.  When the boys were very little and riding the bus with me, I would make sure that they understood the likely reason why someone was being so strange, rude, or scary.  I remember describing how using drugs and alcohol doesn't mean the person is bad but rather that we couldn't predict their behavior.  I detailed how one of my favorite uncles had a drinking problem and how different he was sober vs. drunk.  I've also come home and openly shared about my sadness for a resident at the shelter - a person who is funny and smart and kind but who can't get a decent job.  He got involved with drugs when he was young (19) and a felony charge has followed him ever since.  At age 48, a moment of poor judgement still defines his opportunities.  They also see a bottle of wine on our counter on a daily basis.  They know that there is a difference between drinking, being drunk, and being an alcoholic.

As I talked with my friend, I realized how I rarely (as in three times, at weddings) saw my parents drink.  Alcohol was never a part of meals or celebrations.  I saw abstinence as a model and I vaguely heard about alcoholics.  I don't know if I would have made better choices in my late teens if the model in my home had been different.  I do know that when I first started drinking, it was unhealthy.  There were moments where my life could have been permanently damaged because of the choices I made and the situations I put myself in while "altered".  It's not how I want things to be for my boys.  Is it possible to prepare our teens for drinking in a safer way?  Is there anything we can do to prevent the excess and experimentation and subsequent risk?

Is it enough to say, "It's illegal so I won't condone it in my house/presence?"  We spend so much time teaching our kids about life, sharing skills, imparting values, and guiding their choices.  It doesn't feel consistent to leave this part of their life to some fraternity or sports team.  And yet, am I sending a message that the rules should be ignored if I allow for a drink at the dinner table?  Am I assisting their entrance into adult activity before they are ready?  Help me out here.  What have you done?  What are you planning to do?  What do you wish someone had done for you?  HELP!
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  1. I've never really been drunk and have never even had a hangover. Alcohol held very little appeal as a teen or even in my 20s. I don't know if it had to do with my parents allowing us to have a drink or two at parities as teens, but drinking never felt like rebelling. Plus, after attending high school or college parties completely sober, you realize how ridiculous drunk people act. Of the four siblings, only the crazy brother drank at high school/college parties. So maybe our parent's method worked or maybe it all comes down to personality. Three of us are rule followers and one is a rule breaker.

  2. I'd agree that it might come down to personality. I never felt the need to drink to fit in or rebel - I was just never a "bad kid". But once I got to university I did drink and usually to excess - again, not to fit in or anything, but because alcohol was doing what it does - reducing inhibitions and making things seem more fun - and the more I drank, the better it got. Part of this could be because I've also always been a bit of a wall flower and drinking helps me break down some of those barriers that I normally put up. I think I only got sick 3 times, so nothing crazy - and I've only ever been hung over once (good constitution I guess).

    But all that being said - I have no idea if any of that would have changed had I been allowed to drink when I was younger. I'm guessing no. I have friends that were allowed to drink in their teens in front of their parents - but when with friends, they would still drink to get drunk.

    I think you just need to keep teaching your kids stuff you normally do - the consequences of their behaviours, what to do in case something bad happens, and that you are there for them if they ever get into a situation they find uncomfortable. Kids experiment and I think at the end of the day - they just need to know what to do if their experimentation goes too far.

  3. "Know what to do if their experimentation goes too far." I hadn't thought of that side of the conversation. It's good to hear from both of you that it's not a given that there will be terrible problems.