Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Teens and Drinking: Talking it up or Lock it up?

A couple of weeks ago, I asked for your advice on a couple of issues related to teens and drinking. Here's what I asked:
(1) Do you make alcohol too big a deal if you lock it up? Are you creating safe boundaries or creating an irresistible temptation?(2) 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 got some AMAZING advice and feedback from you on Facebook, Twitter & in the comments. Thank you so much for taking the time to respond and share your thoughts with us. Let's start with whether we think parents should lock up their alcohol if they have teens at home.

The context of this question is really important, I think. The parent who struggled with this is someone who opens her home every week to lots of teens and tweens. I TOTALLY GET IT. I try very hard to make our house a place my kids like to be and somewhere they like to bring their friends. We have rules and we enforce them here. But we also have really good snacks and an Xbox and the world's most comfortable chairs in the basement. As they get older, I want my kids and their friends to hang out here, where they can be themselves and relax, and where I know they're surrounding by limited options for making stupid choices. My friend Rebekah wrote a really good piece about this and you can find it here.

So does making your house a safe hang-out spot for your kids and their friends mean locking up any alcohol you might have? People who responded to this question were 3:2 in favor of locking up alcohol if your home is a gathering place for teens and tweens. About half of the people who said they were in favor of locking up the liquor cabinet did so because they were concerned not necessarily about their own kids, but about the behavior of their friends and guests, who they might not know as well. Additionally, many people expressed their concerns about their liability if alcohol was consumed by teens while in their home. My friend Kathleen from the blog Middletini said: 

"I'd lock it up. If the kids ask, say it's not that you don't trust them; it's that you don't always know their friends so well, and you'd rather be safe than sorry, because if a friend gets into the liquor and goes home drunk, the friend's parents might blame you for it."
A reader named Laura made a couple of really insightful points on Facebook about how a lock and key may actually make things easier for kids when faced with a bad choice:
"I'd go ahead and lock it up because (1) YOU are the responsible adult who WILL be held responsible legally and (2) that will automatically remove any pressure from your kids' shoulders whenever that one (inevitable) friend (or three!) tries to wheedle them into breaking the rules and throwing an "open bar" afternoon." 
Another reader named Kristine made a similar point:
"My kids are adults now. We always had it accessible as we had a bar space in our dining room. HOWEVER, in hindsight, I think it should have been put away. If you don't act like the enforcer on this issue, your kids at some point will have to. In their teen years, kids and friends will come to your house who you have no relationship with and it's better for YOUR kids not to have to be the voice of reason with friends that may have other values. Also, all it takes is ONE incident."  
But there wasn't consensus on this. A lot of people agreed with the concern that by locking it up, parents were creating a greater temptation. Many people who disagreed with putting alcohol behind lock and key also said that it missed the greater point - which was communicating with teens about expectations and consequences. As one brilliant (and quite pithy) Facebook commenter named Teresa stated:
"It's more about talking than locking. Locking adult things away does not address the issue, just makes it seem more tempting. Be straight with your kids, listen to them, TALK about everything."
Melissa from New Zealand added some interesting thoughts to the discussion as well, bringing to light that cultural norms are really different based on where you live:
"I live in New Zealand where laws are different - you can purchase alcohol at 18 and parents are allowed to give their own children alcohol in a supervised situation such as in the family home... When I was about 17, I was allowed to help myself from the liquor cabinet. Guess what? I'm 32 and never been more than slightly tipsy... My point is, if there is no taboo, often the mystery is gone and the chance it will be abused is lessened. However, it also depends on individual kids!"
Maggie left a really interesting comment about how removing the choice at home can cut both ways:
"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." 
And we had a few people give some honest feedback that I think we all know is true; if a kid is determined to drink, that kid will find a way. There was a really personal story left by a commenter who'd struggled with binge drinking as a young person, and he had this to say:
"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... 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."
Since we've covered the issue of locking, let's move onto the issue of talking. How do you start new conversations about drinking and then keep them going? I've been trying to use random triggers to get a discussion started with my kids. Last week, for example, I was watching (an edited for TV version) of Pitch Perfect with my oldest and the scenes where the characters were drinking - we chatted about it.  If we hear a song on the radio that talks about drinking, I'll ask my kids what they think about it and offer my take on it. I like the idea that they'll start to be aware of the messages they're getting from the media and start to interpret what those messages mean and how they feel about them. It will also give us lots of opportunities over time to bring it up, because now that it's on my radar, those messages seem to be everywhere.

Maggie commented that these conversations need to based on parents knowing how they really feel about the subject. If we're not sure where we stand, or we don't have a clear take on our expectations and feelings about teens and drinking - how can we convey a clear message to our kids?
"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." 
I'll leave the last word on this to Jennie, whose comment on Facebook was liked almost 50 times and generated a lot of positive responses:
"Make it less about shoulds and should nots and more about the reasons why. Talk about how their bodies and minds aren't old enough to handle alcohol. Talk about the health issues, the addictive factor, the lack of self-control that can happen. Talk about TRUST and how, just like always, if you set a rule for your family (be it underage drinking or curfew or jumping on the couch or eating all the vegetables), you trust them to obey. If you are brave, talk about why you drink alcohol and maybe even a little about why you shouldn't. If you decide to lock up the liquor, talk about how you trust them, but maybe not their friends, and talk about how the temptation to impress can lead to bad choices. Talk about the legal side of things, how you could possible get in trouble for providing alcohol to minors. And don't LECTURE them all this. ASK them what they think. Maybe they already know all this stuff. :0)"
Thank you so much for all of your amazing advice. I learned so much from all you!

This post is sponsored by to guide a lifetime of conversations about alcohol responsibility. All the opinions are my own because no one is the boss of me. 

(c) Mommyland Blogs 2013-2015

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