Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Help This Woman: I Have Teens, Should I Lock Up The Liquor?

Photo credit: iStock
A couple of weeks I ago I wrote a post about trying to manage my stress, including talking to my kids about how we should and should not do that. One of the specific things I wrote about was trying not to perpetuate this idea that stressed people drink to feel better. No, we don’t. We play Trivia Crack and watch Property Brothers. LIKE CHAMPIONS. 

Anyway, the post led to some really interesting feedback including some emails from folks who were struggling with how to be honest and open with their older kids (tweens and teens) about alcohol. I GET IT. My oldest is heading into 7th grade. Middle school is a whole new ball game, you guys. So I was pretty excited to ask for your advice on a couple of questions relating to middle/high school kids and alcohol. 

Let’s start with this email:
Hey Lydia/Julie!  
Thanks for writing about this! We really have no cultural consensus on dealing with kids and alcohol. If I'm going to screw up my kids, I would at least like to do it roughly the same way as everyone else. 
We have a wine rack in the basement. And some tequila, and gin, you know the drill. 
We've started hosting Pizza-and-a-Movie nights where a kid gets to invite a group of friends to hang out for the evening. In the rec room! In the basement!  Next to the…wine. Group sleepovers happen in the rec room! Next to the….wine. 
So when our 12-year-old daughter had her closest nine friends for a sleepover, we boxed up the alcohol and hid it. It only takes one kid at 2am to break out a bottle and start a disaster. And the sleepover was a one-time thing, so it was easy to box it.  But the Pizza Movie nights? Those are a regular thing. And for our 16-year-old, they run long and late. 
So I just ordered a Wine Jail. It's this big honking thing and you can PADLOCK IT. Is this overkill? I have no idea. I feel like I bought a gun safe for my Pinot Noir. 
So that’s our first question:
Do you make alcohol too big a deal if you lock it up? Are you creating safe boundaries or creating an irresistible temptation?

My second question is:
How do you continue the ongoing conversation about alcohol with your kids, once the temptation and/or pressure to try it actually becomes a reality?

I’m asking this last question for me personally, because I feel like it’s kind of easier to have conversations with kids about drinking when they’re little and they don't have much interest in it. It’s not like Mini is going to get offered a Red Bull & vodka at her friend’s My Little Pony Friendship is Magic birthday party. It’s a totally different story for her older sister, though. Middle school means new friends who I don’t know. It means a social life where this thing could actually come up. I want her to feel ready if it does, because we’ve already talked about it. 

If you could share your thoughts, experiences, and advice on these questions, that would be so great. Please leave a comment here, on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram. I’ll compile everyone’s advice in a new post next week.
April is Alcohol Responsibility Month. This post is sponsored by Responsibility.org as part of their #TalkEarly campaign, encouraging families to talk early, talk often, and be healthy. All the opinions are my own because no one is the boss of me. I'm very, very proud to be part of the #TalkEarly blogger team this year. 

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  1. I never had the liquor locked up at my house growing up, but I know that my folks had knowledge of the levels, and I'd be dead meat if I tried sneaking it. My parents also had no problem with letting me taste alcohol as a young kid, usually gin and tonics, or straight whiskey, which, let's be honest, to a 5 year old tastes completely gross! That memory stood up for me for quite some time.

    I'm doing the same thing with my kids, thankfully, they both had the expected reaction to having alcohol as little (a sip, not their own highball glass!) and now also know that even though it might be "interesting", the wrath of Mom will come down if you're busted, and it's not worth it.

  2. The whole thing is pretty much a crapshoot. Could go either way, no matter what you do. We have always told our kids the dangers of drinking alcohol (and using drugs) and monitored their friends pretty closely. But what we have learned is, no matter how amazing your kid is, the peer pressure out there is very real. And they can get talked into one drink very easily (you'd be surprised how easily, for kids that know better!) and one drink can turn into drinking on weekend very quickly. And if it were me, I probably would have kept my alcohol locked up, but we generally don't keep much, if any, in the house. But, as we have also learned, if they want it, it's readily available out there. My advice, other than just locking the alcohol up, is to MONITOR your kids very closely and know who they're with, and where they're going. Previously trustworthy and fabulous kid can get turned completely upside once they hit high school. Invade their friendship circles. Check texts. Call other parents. Don't be afraid of offending your kid or their friends. It's way more important to know what they're up to, than worry about making them mad when you're checking on them. Speaking from experience here.....

  3. I am not a parent. However I do remember my parents talking to me about alcohol/drinking as a kid/teenager/adult. Now it may have been easier for them than other parents - rarely did I meet a rule I felt compelled to break. That being said, my parent's usually had a drink when we went out to dinner. My mother always had a glass of wine when watching Masterpiece Theater on Sunday night's. They talked about alcohol as something they enjoyed - they liked the liquor - not the getting tipsy/drunk/inebriated. So a good drink was more like a good appetizer - something to be savored not downed as quickly as possible to make room for the next one.

    They also talked about when they weren't responsible drinkers - the hijinks & mistakes they made. The possible ramifications thereof. This wasn't one conversation - it was many over many years of growing up. Alcohol was never locked up in my house and if I'd wanted to I could have 'tried' some but I was taught to respect it.

    Also - my parent's established clear boundaries. They used to say if I ever got arrested to get comfortable they'd see me in the morning but weren't crawling out of bed in the middle of the night to get me out of jail.

    I think with all 'difficult' topics parents need to 1. know what they believe/expect, 2. communicate those beliefs/expectations and 3. stand behind them and the ramifications of what happens if the child falls short.

    If I had kids I don't think I'd lock up the liquor. I'd remind my children of the house rules & if they are violated - then address the situation when it happens. If we remove every temptation then we aren't teaching how to avoid temptation; or how to stand up to friends with bad ideas. We're infantalizing and not providing tools for making GOOD choices.

    1. Thank you for this. I've read your comment like 10 times.

  4. We are not big drinkers, a glass of wine or a beer on occasion. The rare cocktail when the kids have really been pushing my buttons. Its around, but not IN YOUR FACE around, KWIM? We've always jokingly offered a sip of whatever we are drinking, and, usually, the smell turns them off. I'll never forget though, my youngest stealing my girlfriend's glass of wine when he was just 10 months old. He loved the stuff back then - won't touch it with a 20-foot pole now.

    When my oldest offers to get us a drink, we usually truthfully answer no thanks. #1, he doesn't need to be getting into that, and he's just being sneaky by being nice. #2, we don't need a drink every day.

    We try to keep communication open and honest, even if that means sitting in the dark talking to a shy kid after bedtime, because he couldn't drum up the courage in the light of day. And that's fine with me.

  5. There is a lock on my liquor cabinet. I installed it when my sister, who was an alcoholic, came to live with us for a month. At that time, I had a frank conversation with my ten-year-old about how there are things you can only do if you are a) legally old enough and b) responsible enough. I compared it to driving: just because the law says a person can have a license at 16 doesn't mean they are responsible enough to drive safely and not hurt anyone. So some people choose not to get a license until they are 18. Or their parents make that decision for them. Some people are responsible enough to drink when they are old enough, some are not. And since we don't know just how responsible everyone who walks into our house will be, we choose to take that option away from them. He understood it, and has no interest in drinking (yet).

    Also, keep in mind that they are getting the anti-drug, anti-alcohol message at school as young as third grade (when my kid called me an alcoholic every time I had a glass of wine, God Bless him). So the topic is out there and should probably be addressed.

  6. Locking it up is almost always going to be overkill. Your emailer has it right; you're creating a great big box of "let's be like the grownups" temptation. Let your kids know that you have it in the house. Let them know that if they really want to try something to come ask you about it and you'll talk about whether or not that's a good choice and (if you decide in favor of trying it) that they can do that with you, in your home. After a certain age, if they ask to try your wine at dinner, let them (that age is your parental call, of course). If you say no, talk about why. (Aside: Most alcohol is going to taste bad to most kids the first time, which is honestly pretty helpful). If you have a family history of addiction (to alcohol or other substances) talk about that as soon as you think they can understand it. Fundamentally, remove the mystery and TALK ABOUT IT. We already talk about it some at my house and our oldest is four. She asks what daddy is having, why she doesn't have it, etc. We answer her questions as honestly as possible and at her level and she leaves content with her knowledge. I've seen that tactic continue to work with older kids, and we intend to continue. It works well for most things that can become overly tempting or taboo, really :-).

  7. Maybe think about locking up the extra or relocating the wine supply away from teens. In this day and age of the parents getting in serious legal trouble for minors drinking, I would think of it as protecting myself from liability. Especially if the teens are driving age.

  8. My parents always had alcohol open and available, but I was never tempted to take their alcohol. I did drink as a teen (after age 16), but not at home really. Strange. My sister was different. With our kids, we really only have beer in the house, occasionally some champagne for special occasions and my husband will have red wine. We do not have hard alcohol in the house. My son (who is 18) has indicated that he has no desire to drink. There was a party earlier in the year where there was drinking and some of the football team were suspended as a result. When I asked my son about it, he said that he was aware of the party, but knew what would probably happen and had no desire to be involved. Mind you he has a good head on his shoulders, but even when I mention drinking at 21, he says as of now, he doesn't want to. My kids are more into telling us not to drink, so I'm sure it is not as big of a problem as in some houses. I think locking it up does create a bit of temptation, but if you are going to have other kids in your house, no matter how responsible your child is, I would lock it up. You do not need to be that parent who somehow gets in trouble for someone drinking at your house. The main thing in my opinion is to communicate with your kids. Explain why they shouldn't be drinking, etc. And, of course, have them play more trivia crack. (BTW, at my son's school, they played trivia crack to take a break from studying for finals-- go figure)

  9. I had the benefit of two significantly older siblings to get in all the trouble they could so by the time I was in a position to cause more, my parents had developed a fairly mellow attitude towards alcohol and me. When I was 18 and experiencing the freedom of college, I was sat down for a talk about the rules of the house now that boys, liquor, and late nights were a reality. The rules were, officially, "If you have an underage drinking party, clean up afterwards, buy good beer, and save some for Dad. If you drink Mom's favorite liqueur, replace the bottle instead of leaving the empty in the cabinet." But I'm getting ahead of things.

    I was raised Catholic, so wine at church was always an option. I had one taste at my First Communion class and never had an inkling of desire for another. My family usually had a glass of wine or two at dinner, and if I'd asked I could have had a sip whenever I wanted. It was never a thing, it was always there and available. We had a small store of liqueurs for special occasions -- once in a while Mom would have a scoop of ice cream with a splash of amaretto, or when company was over they were offered Irish coffee for dessert -- that were never hidden but also never really a thing.

    Mom told me that when she was about to go to college, her father sat her down and had her taste a variety of alcohols. She said that he wanted her to know what alcohol tastes like and what its effects feel like in a safe environment, so that she didn't start learning this after someone spiked her drink at a party. If I'd asked, I believe she would have done the same for me.

    When I went to college, alcohol was The Thing for most of my friends. Most Friday nights, as few as four people would split an entire handle of tequila. I never participated, because alcohol was never this amazing forbidden temptation for me, and because I had a respect for the dangers of getting drunk. I had thought of celebrating my 21st birthday with a drink, but was assured by one of my acquaintances that he would get me blackout drunk, no matter what I said I wanted when sober, because once my inhibitions were lowered he would find it easy to get me to drink more, and according to him every 21st birthday needs to end with vomiting into a bucket in the back seat of someone else's car. That conversation was almost enough to stop me from ever drinking at all.

    Now, as an adult, I have a collection of alcohols, but they're mostly for guests and cooking. I make myself drinks once in a while, and kind of lose interest in them after a few swallows. I think a lot of my relationship with alcohol has to do with my own personality, but I also think that my family's attitude of "yeah, alcohol exists, whatever," contributed significantly. My husband had a similar upbringing -- alcohol was always available, tastes were offered routinely, and the adults modeled responsibility and moderation -- and he's also a very infrequent drinker, and as far as I know never sneaked a drink as a teenager. Why would he need to?

  10. I grew up in the opposite, my dad was an alcoholic who encouraged me to drink so he wasn't drinking alone.
    So I have had the following policy in my house with my daughter:
    I may have a glass of wine when I am out for dinner because I enjoy it, but not all the time because alcohol is not irreplaceable.
    When my daughter is a teenager she may have a glass of champagne at a wedding and that is it. Alcohol is a treat, not a stress reliver or something to end a bad day. And just like a treat it is for moderation.

  11. So this is where you get the opinion of the bad influence kid.

    Alcohol was never locked up in my house growing up but usually there was just beer, a bottle of whiskey on hand for when my grandparents came to visit, and the random bottle of Bailey's for my mother's occasional Irish coffee drinks. Nothing a kid is really all that interested in anyway. My parents never really drank to excess, in fact one margarita out at a restaurant and my mom was a flush faced mess.

    But as a teenager (and technically younger) I drank. I remember my mother had bought a bottle of Malibu rum for a punch she was taking to friend's party and most of the bottle was left. My friend and I (we were both in 6th grade at the time) decided that we would ride our bikes to the local 7-11 and get Slurpees. We brought them back to my house and because I knew there was no chance my mom would notice, and we filled our cups so to speak. We did this occasionally for the better part of the summer and by the end of summer the bottle was practically empty. I filled it with water and ignored it for a few months confident that no one would notice and then finally just tossed it with the regular trash knowing it wouldn't be missed.

    By 15, I was drinking most weekends but we bounced around from friend's house to friend's house always being discreet and never going to large parties that would draw attention or where we might get caught. Many of my friends came from families with older siblings so there was always someone around that could supply for us. If not, there was always the old "hey mister" trick outside the liquor store.
    The first time I had alcohol poisoning was three weeks before my 16th birthday.
    My parents had no idea what to do with me because I was in advanced placement classes, worked part time, and was active in sports and school groups. I had been earning my own money for several years and had purchased my first car myself, paid for my insurance and gas on my own so in my mind they had no right to take away my car and the only thing they could do is try to ground me, but with my own transportation I would just sneak out anyway. I wasn't disrespectful (in any other ways), always did my chores, and made sure I was around for family dinner. I just happened to really enjoy drinking.

    I had my first fake ID before I was even 17.
    By the time I went off to college (which was a well respected Big 10 school & was enrolled in honors courses) I had a well established binge drinking problem.
    I was high functioning and I didn't drink every day so I didn't think I had a problem. Nobody stopped me, nobody could have stopped me.
    I finally pulled my head out of my arse after I had an internship in Manhattan (I worked my butt of to get it thinking I was MADE for life in New York). I quickly discovered that just because I could hold it together in my little corner of the world did NOT mean I was ready to take on the big leagues the way I was living my life.
    And that was it.
    I had to fail at something before I realized what I had done to myself.

    So yes, by all means, talk to your kids about alcohol, lock it up or don't, it won't make a difference if your kid doesn't see it as a problem. There are ALWAYS ways to get it that don't involve your private stash. I didn't drink because I had some crappy home-life, my parents loved me, still do. I didn't drink because I was trying to play at being an adult.
    I drank because I was restless and bored and it was something to do. It wasn't a gateway drug for me, I never did anything else and I was never so stupid as to try to drive drunk. I can't even tell you what might have made a difference for me, honestly, probably nothing. I'm telling you about all this because it doesn't matter what advice other people give you, if it's not what is right for your kid then it's not good advice.
    Try your hardest but recognize that some kids are wired different and have to find their own way.

    1. Thanks for this. I really appreciate you sharing your story and I'm taking it to heart.

    2. I just read today's post. I want to say thank you for not judging me for my youth, not that I thought you would. I have followed the blog for a few years now and have always found this to be a place of respite from the daily demands of domestic life. I know that this can sometimes be a timesuck for you but I hope you know that you, Guru Louise, and even Kate (I really miss her) know what a difference you have made for people. I love seeing how new issues are addressed as the children get older and I have bookmarked an obscene number of posts for reference once my boys reach those stages. Best to you my dear.

  12. My ex husband drank a lot as a kid starting at 13 or 14. Alcohol was in the house, rarely touched by his parents but there. I suspect his drinking problem began then. He is a serious alcoholic now and no longer able to function in any meaningful way.

    OTOH, my parents never drank. The first time I remember my parents drinking, I was 16. There was no alcohol in our house. I always thought it tasted bad and was a big waste of money so I rarely had a drink; chocolate was far more pleasurable than booze.




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