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4 lines teens use around alcohol and parties and 4 responses to throw back!

Adolescents can be masters at getting what they want when it comes to their parents. This can be achieved in many ways, with some of the best including  ‘siloing’ or isolating one or more of their parents (from each other and from other adults) and then setting them up against each other, throwing as many guilt trips on them as possible and hoping at least one of them sticks and, of course, one of their favourites, comparing you to other parents who apparently let their teens do whatever they want, whenever they want to do it …

As I’ve written many times before, when it comes to making rules for your child around alcohol and parties only you can make those decisions. No so-called ‘expert’ can (or should) be making those choices for you and more fool you if you start listening to your best friend or a relative about what you should or shouldn’t be doing in this area. My best advice is to get the best quality and up-to-date information on the topic and then ‘follow your heart’. It boils down to one simple statement – ‘If it doesn’t feel right, don’t do it!’

That said, this issue can cause great problems for families and put enormous strain on relationships. So many parents have contacted me over the years and said that they tried to ‘hold their ground’ but ended up crumbling because it all became just too difficult. In some of these cases if they hadn’t loosened up a little they would have most likely ‘lost’ their child – it’s important to pick your battles and there are certainly situations where, due to a range of factors, there has to be a compromise. In so many others, however, it was due to the teen bamboozling their parents with a statement which left them floundering and finally throwing their arms in the air and giving up. It is also important to acknowledge that if you’re ‘crumbling’ when your teen is 17, that’s a completely different story than that of a parent of a 14, 15 or 16-year-old. Always remember that rules need to be age-appropriate and, as such, regularly reviewed and relevant changes made. The same should apply to how you respond to these statements …

It would appear that the four lines (or at least versions of them) that are most often used by teens are as follows:

“You’re the only one who does that!”
“If you don’t give me alcohol, I’ll get my own and go and drink in a park.”
“But you drink alcohol and I know you did when you were my age – you’re a hypocrite.”
“Don’t you want me to be honest? I want to tell you the truth and not have to drink behind your back.”

To assist parents struggling to deal with these, here are some responses that I believe could be effective:

“You’re the only one who does that!”
One of the most important things parents forget to do is to challenge ridiculous statements. This is one of the most ridiculous and it is rarely, if ever challenged. Instead, parents usually respond by saying something like “Well I’m not every Mum!” or the like, which in essence is saying “You’re right, I am the only one” which is not the truth. It may sometimes feel like you are the only one but all the evidence we have says that is simply not the case. Possible responses could include the following:
“Prove it!” – they’ve made this wild, sweeping statement now ask them to provide the evidence … or …
“I’m pretty sure that’s not the case but I would like to talk to some of the parents who do give their teen alcohol to take to a party. Here’s a piece of paper and a pen, write the names and phone numbers of at least five parents who do and I’ll call them and ask them if what you’re saying is true.”
Of course, if you’ve done your homework and you know a parent who has the same values, as well as rules around alcohol as you, the response is even more simple – “Mrs Jones does …” 

“If you don’t give me alcohol, I’ll get my own and go and drink in a park.”
This is a threat and also designed to frighten you just a little – it should be treated as such – backing down and allowing your teen to do what they want in response to this can lead to major problems down the road. The most important thing to remember here is that what they’re saying is they’d prefer for you to give them alcohol because it’ll be much easier than them having to make the effort themselves. Firstly, alcohol isn’t cheap and they’re going to have to find the money to pay for it and secondly, they’re going to have to find someone else willing to buy it for them or they’ll have to ‘bum’ it from their friends. As far as they’re concerned, you providing it to them is so much simpler. A good response could be:
“I’m not going to give you alcohol and if you decide to get your own and I find out there will be consequences. I can’t stop you from drinking in a park if that’s what you want to do but if I catch you breaking our family rules, once again, there will be consequences.” 
The truth is you can’t stop your teen drinking alcohol if that’s what they want to do but that doesn’t mean you should make it easy for them. Threats like this need to be dealt with calmly and clearly – if you have rules and boundaries in place, reiterate those and end the conversation.

“But you drink alcohol and I know you did when you were my age – you’re a hypocrite.”
If you’re a non-drinker and you didn’t drink when you were a teen it’s highly unlikely you’ll get to hear this one but for everybody else this can be a real challenge. The most important thing here is that you’re honest in your response. There are two parts to this statement that you have to deal with – firstly, the fact that you now drink alcohol and secondly, you drank when you were a teen. Let’s deal with the first part and that’s relatively simple:
“Drinking alcohol is an adult activity. I am an adult” … or … “There’s a reason why you have to be a certain age to be able to legally drive. The legal age for drinking alcohol is 18 for a reason. Drinking alcohol is an adult activity. I am an adult.”
If you drank when you were a teen avoid telling ‘war stories’ or trying to scare them with horror stories from your past. Once again, the best way to deal with this is by telling them the truth:
“Yes, I did drink when I was your age but we now so much more about alcohol than we did back then. Would knowing about alcohol’s impact on the teenage brain or how it’s linked to so many cancers and other problems have stopped me from drinking? Maybe not, but my job as a parent now that I know those things is to try and keep you as safe as possible. If that makes me a hypocrite, so be it.”

“Don’t you want me to be honest? I want to tell you the truth and not drink behind your back.”
This is the ultimate manipulation – pulling out the trust and honesty cards and using them to get exactly what they want from their totally unsuspecting parents. They’re basically saying look, I don’t like these rules and I’m going to drink alcohol whether you like it or not and just to avoid any possible problems in the future, I’m going to pull on your heartstrings a little and hopefully get you to agree to let me do exactly what I want … Now, that may sound a little cynical but over the years I’ve spoken to so many parents who’ve fallen for this line and lived to regret it. By the way, teens usually back this statement up with something like “But don’t you trust me?”
My suggested responses are as follows:
“Yes, I ‘d like you to be honest but I also expect you to follow the family rules. Telling the truth about breaking the rules doesn’t mean that there aren’t going to be consequences. I can’t stop you from drinking behind my back but if I find out that you’ve broken the rules there will be consequences.”
“Just because you decide to tell me that you’re planning on breaking the rules, it doesn’t mean that those rules no longer exist. Honesty is great but it doesn’t give you a free pass to do whatever you want.” 
And if they decide to use the ‘trust’ back-up line, you can try this:
“Do I have to trust you? Of course I do. Can I always trust you? Most probably not. Like most teenagers you’ll do the ‘right thing’ most of the time, however, like all young people of your age you’ll do the ‘wrong thing’ at least some of the time. My job is to try and keep you as safe as possible and have rules in place that hopefully do that.” 
“Trust goes both ways. I do trust you, but it is important that you also trust me and trust that the rules we’ve made aren’t there to ruin your life or cause arguments but to keep you as safe as possible.”
If you want to talk about your own experiences as a teen (which doesn’t tend to always work particularly well) here’s another one …
“I was your age once and I used the same line with my parents. Most of the time I could be trusted to do the right thing but did I occasionally break my parents’ trust so that I could do things they didn’t want me to do? Absolutely!”

With all these responses it’s important that they’re used in conjunction with two things. Firstly, they need to be ‘bound in love’. Start these conversations by telling them that you love them and that cannot change, whatever they choose to do – you may not like their behaviour at times but you’ll always love them. Secondly, when you have finished saying your piece, walk away … Don’t just stand there and wait for their response, it’s vital that you get away from there as soon as you can. The truth is that no matter how well-planned your answer may have been it’s highly unlikely that they’re going to turn around and say “Yes, thanks for that – that sounds great!” They haven’t got what they want so they’re not going to be happy and unless you remove yourself from the situation everything is likely to escalate. Finally, if you’re walking away and they throw something at you like “I hate you, I hate you!” just keep walking to your ‘safe space’ and calmly say “But I love you!”

This is tough and I totally understand why some parents often buckle and allow their teen to do something they don’t feel entirely comfortable about … we don’t only see it around alcohol and parties, it happens in so many areas. Parents are constantly being told by their children that everyone else is allowed to take part in particular behaviours and they’re the only ones that aren’t – that’s hard. But is ‘sticking to your guns’ with your 14, 15 or 16-year-old really worth all the time, energy and heartache? Damn right it is! If holding true to what you believe is right increases the chance of keeping your teen just that little bit safer through adolescence and beyond, it’s worth all that and much, much more!

Published: December 2020

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