Whether you look east or west, north or south, underage drinking and the attendant outrageous acts have been in the news. We’ve watched good kids behave in racially insensitive ways; we’ve heard of college men violate inebriated young women as the video tape recorded the incidents. Recently almost an entire varsity team in an exclusive boys school was side-lined for a drinking party on a team trip…a promising finals team sank in defeat. With so much grim news everywhere, engaged parents across the country are trying to understand how to help their kids get it right.
So with a parenting group, I recently tossed out the scenario of a high school boy telling his parents about his fake I.D. The situation entailed his having a few beers and assuring his parents that drinking just wasn’t that big a deal. Then the group began to work through their thoughts on that and to consider what consequences might have an impact. Here are some of our reflections on the subject, perhaps some ideas on how to approach underage drinking.
1. Since safety and decency are the basic jobs of a parent, teen drinking brings us smack into the middle of parenting responsibility. Potential car wrecks = danger; doing sexually inappropriate things = decency. IT’S OUR JOB we decided.
2. It’s illegal. If a kid decides it’s “not that big a deal,” does that mean we can decide which laws we feel like obeying? Today I’m okay with that stop sign but tomorrow, I’m in a hurry? How can we operate as a society if everyone gets to pick and choose which laws they’ll follow?
3. If you’re in high school (much less if you’re younger), legal age is still years away. How does a teen suppose he’ll pace himself over those 4 or 5 or 6 years until he’s legal to drink? Was he thinking he’d have a beer a month from the time he’s sixteen until he turns twenty-one? Does he really think that this habit doesn’t grow in momentum?
4. And if it does pick up momentum, how likely is it that illegal behavior can avoid cell phone photos, Facebook publication, rumor around the school, detection by a coach or principal or local police or parent? Five or six years is a long time to be illegal “under the radar.” You’d best be drinking in private since certainly along the way somewhere, someone is going to post pictures.
5. Has the teen read the school’s policy on drinking? How does he weigh how much fun drinking is compared to how much he stands to lose? Is it really worth the “fun?” Under the “Is it worth it” heading, be sure to help your teen consider how significant adults will regard him/her following a drinking incident. The coach who wants you to be in a leadership position. The parents of your girl friend. Your best friend’s mom…..
6. If the kid persists in drinking or is edging close to legal age, how will they, like every responsible adult, observe parties for danger? What will be their “yellow flags?” (NOT red flags because then the bad situation is already underway) We’d like a kid to be able to recognize trouble ahead of time and plan a strategy to avoid it. What signs will let her know it’s time to leave the party? What’s his plan if things get worse than he’d expected.
7. Looking ahead a few years (or months), on his graduation day as he marches across the stage, imagine one person leaning to another, whispering, “There goes…. (fill in your boy’s name). He’s the guy who…..” Ask: Who WHAT? What is it you want? What do you want your reputation to be? The guy who was fun and kind to everyone? The guy who managed to wreck his life before leaving home? The guy who….WHAT? What manner of man do you wish to be?
There is NO SLIVER BULLET to help our kids through or past teen drinking. It is a part of parenting which calls for our best thought and most consistent attention. Look for a chance, like these moms did, to sit with supportive peers and consider carefully your loving, firm, effective way to guide and to set limits to bring your kids safely across the Finish Line!
In the next blog I’ll offer a great tool: The Third Thing.