Teen drinking presents a dilemma for some parents
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Whether to allow teens to drink at home is a difficult parental decision and a controversial topic. Although some parents demand absolute abstinence from their teens or pre-teens, others believe that their kids are going to experiment whether they forbid it or not.
So what's a parent to do? And what kind of impact will their decision make?
Kevin Tissot is a Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC) who has a local practice specializing in children and adolescence. He meets with teens who have a history of drinking and / or drug use every day.
Forbidding alcohol use doesn't work, according to Tissot.
"If you tell someone not to do something, it becomes evocative," he says.
For some parents, neither forbidding nor condoning drinking are the answer. Instead, they promote open conversation with the hope it will lead their child to healthy decision making about many topics, including sex, drugs, stealing and lying – in addition to drinking.
Chris Ward has a 19-year-old daughter who attends Bard College in New York City. Ward says she never had a problem with her daughter drinking excessively in high school.
"I think honesty is the critical piece here. I tried lying once. I had her convinced the ice cream trucks were what mail carriers used. Kids talk to each other. They figure out pretty quickly if their parents have given them a line of BS. And once they feel that you've lied or misled them, the trust is gone," says Ward. "There will always be that seed of doubt about every other single thing you tell them."
Steph Davies is in her 30s and, although she experimented a little bit with drinking as a teen, she isn't much of a drinker today. She says her mother enforced honesty, too, but at times she wasn't honest back.
"I should also mention that whenever I did lie to my mother she had this super hero way of finding out, so I learned very early on there was no getting around the 'be honest' rule," she says.
Parents being open and honest is key, but the fact is, according to Tissot, a lot of kids do not tell the truth and parents should be ready for less-than-truthful responses, especially when drinking is the issue. Parents might need to resort to drug testing, he says, just so they can get kids to admit what's going on and start dialogues from an honest place.
According to The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) National Survey on Drug Use and Health, approximately 10 percent of 12-year-olds say they have used alcohol at least once. By age 13 that number doubles. And by age 15, approximately 50 percent have had at least one drink.
For Erin Linnane, the heavy conversations started before her daughter was a teenager.
"When my daughter was 12, I had to have the sex, drugs and booze talk because a lot of her friends were already experimenting. I told her I knew she was gonna try it eventually and I would like her to wait until she got through freshman year of high school. After that, if I saw her grades start to slip or she started getting in trouble, I would have to quit my job and come to school with her every day. Then I asked her what she was more afraid of, me having to quit my job and come to school with her or her friends," says Linnane.
Linnane says her daughter did the "normal, stupid crap" kids do in high school, but she always called her when she needed a safe ride, got good grades and went on to graduate from the University of Minnesota.
Forcing teens to live with the consequences of getting drunk can work to teach teens moderation. Linnane says the few times she knew her daughter had been drinking the night before she woke her up for a 7 a.m. grocery shopping trip.
"With coupons," she says.
Getting kids to feel safe and comfortable talking is difficult but necessary for a healthy lifestyle. Parents should not shame kids or over-punish them.
Instead, Tissot recommends very short consequences.
"We all learn through mistakes. We need the chance for renewal. No two-week groundings. Let them know they are in trouble but teach them about new days and reflection," he says.
Kids who stay busy, Tissot says, usually fare better than those who do not, whether they're involved in art, sports, academics or a part-time job.
Negotiating and non-dictating are also recommended by Tissot. He suggests letting kids feel like they have options and are making their own choices is important.
"You want to be in negotiation and talk to them. The more you give directives, the more they turn off," he says. "Choice is power."
Talking about consequences is key, too. Kids need to know about the losses one can experience through excessive drinking. Connecting with the parents of your kids' friends is important and to remind them it is OK to share with other adults including neighbors and teachers.
"It takes a village," Tissot says.
Inserting yourself into the teen's world / mindset is important for good communication.
"A lot of kids feel misunderstood. Try to slow down. Drive around in the car with them. Listen to what they say and repeat it back to them," he says.
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