‘Sticking to your guns’ when it comes to any adolescent issue, whether it be rules around screen time, household chores or alcohol and teenage parties is never going to be easy. You can start off with the best of intentions, attend every parent information session, read all the right books and think that you have it all covered but when it finally comes down to actually putting it all into practice it can be really tough.
Here is part of a message I received from Carol, a mother struggling to maintain her stand in relation to alcohol and her teenage son:
“I’m constantly being told by my son that I’m the only one who calls other parents to find out what’s going on at parties and even my best friend (who I’ve known since I was in Year 1 and always said to me that she would stick with me around the whole alcohol and parties thing when it came to our children who are the same age) said that I’m out on my own when it comes to saying ‘no’ to my 16-year-old around alcohol … What makes it even harder is when he tells me that he’s losing friends because of my stance. I can’t believe that’s true but it’s still really hard to hear …”
Finding yourself isolated and alone, like Carol, believing that you are the only one who has created rules and boundaries in any of these areas can be extremely distressing. When you combine that with the fear that your values could be adversely affecting your child in some way, it’s not surprising that many parents simply ‘cave in’ and allow their teen to do exactly what they want.
This is all built upon the belief that ‘everyone else does it’, something I believe just isn’t true. Sure, there are parents who put on parties and provide alcohol to teens, but they are now certainly in the minority. Others ‘turn a blind-eye’ to teen drinking in their house or their child having a couple of cans at a party on a Saturday night but I really do believe that if you sat down with a group of parents and asked them whether they felt comfortable with their 15 or 16-year-old drinking at a teenage party or gathering, the response would be an overwhelming ‘no’. The key to success in this area is to get parents to talk to each other about how they feel when it comes to this issue but that’s not easy and, unfortunately, it’s becoming more and more difficult as time goes on …
Teens are great at ‘siloing’ their parents – maneuvering them into a place where they will not talk to others to check up on whether what they are telling you is true or not. They do it by saying that ‘no-one else does that’ or ‘you’re the only one who does’ depending on the situation. They tell you things and ensure that their friends are there to back them up with their wild claims about what everyone else is doing and of course, they always have the ultimate strategy which is to tell you that if you don’t let them do something they really want to do then ‘you will shame them forever’ and ‘that you will ruin their life’! I can’t imagine what it must be like for a parent to have the person they love the most in world look them in the eye and tell them that they hate them and that they’re destroying their life – it must be heartbreaking.
There are no easy answers but here some simple tips to help parents with this complex issue:
Challenge ridiculous statements: If your child tells you that you are the ‘only Mum who won’t provide alcohol’ – make sure you do not let this statement go unchallenged. Most parents do not support providing alcohol to take to underage parties. If your teenager insists that this is the truth, make sure you get them to provide some proof. Give them a piece of paper and a pen and ask them to supply names and phone numbers of five parents who do provide alcohol and tell them that you’re going to call them up and check if what they’ve said is actually true!
Let other parents know your views: Make sure other parents know where you stand on the subject of supplying alcohol to teenagers who are underage. If you do not believe that it is appropriate to provide your child with alcohol to take to a party, you will most probably be pleasantly surprised as to how many parents agree with your stance. If parents have differing viewpoints that is their right but let them know your reasons and make it clear that you do not want your child to drink at this stage in their life.
Link up with other like-minded parents: As much as it may seem as though you are all alone on a little island somewhere when it comes to this area, I assure you that there will be others who do not feel comfortable allowing their child to drink alcohol at a teenage party (you only have to come to one of my Parent Information Evenings to see that large numbers of these people really do exist). When you meet a like-minded parent, grab them, hold onto them and keep them close and the next time your child says – “You’re the only one”, you can turn around and say, “Well, Mrs Jones doesn’t either – do you want to talk to her?”
I totally understand why some parents buckle to this pressure and allow their teen to do something they don’t feel entirely comfortable about … we don’t only see it in the alcohol and other drug area, it happens with clothing (e.g., permitting adult-style, highly sexualised clothing to be worn by the very young), access to movies and video games (e.g., primary school-aged children watching M-rated movies containing violence and sex) and of course social media and cybersafety (e.g., allowing their child to have Instagram and Snapchat accounts way before they’re legally meant to, having computers, smartphones and the like in their bedrooms). 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. Some parents are even ridiculed by others for having old-fashioned ideas and warned that if they don’t keep up with the times they will lose their relationship with their child. That is simply shameful!
But is ‘sticking to your guns’ 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 child just that little bit safer through adolescence and beyond, it’s worth all that and much, much more!