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Keen to hear people's thoughts on issues like teens going out partying, including underage drinking. We want to give our children freedom and autonomy, and discuss issues with them, including giving them information re the ramifications of their choices etc. But would people here knowingly approve of their teens choice to drink underage? Do you encourage your teens to be honest with you about this stuff? Are they?
I think that underage drinking is wrong simply because it's against the law, but also because it's not healthy for their bodies, and they will tend to do things when drinking that would not do sober. My kids know I feel this way, but they also know that I am not a controlling parent, and am willing and keen to discuss anything & everything with them.
But I wonder if the fact that they KNOW I don't like the idea of underage drinking will cause them to go behind my back, so as not to disappoint me.
What would you do?
I can only speak for myself, so take what I say in that context. First, lemme speak from my experience of my own youth and my experience with my teen daughters. Then, I’m gonna give you some feedback, and pushback, on some of the specific statements in your post.
I was born and raised a half-century and more ago in old New Orleans, physically and culturally, which was more French than WASP, Puritanical, generic American. As a young child, I drank watered wine with meals, as I got to around 10 or so, I drank wine without the water. As I moved into the teen years, whenever my parents had a party, I was allowed to have whatever alcohol was being served, whether it was kir royale or mimosa for brunch, or wine or mixed drinks at an evening party. I was also told that anytime I wanted to experience drunkenness, I should simply say so and they’d sit with me, safely at home, while I explored the edge of the alcohol envelope.
For me, the result was that I was comfortable about alcohol and not desperate to use it, like my classmates who were typically denied access to it, so they gluttonously overindulged whenever they managed to get their hands on some illicit booze. For the scientific explanation of this phenomenon, review the law of marginal utility. When someone is denied access to something they desire, their desire increases, the interval between instances of their desire for the thing decreases, and the curve of their consumption of the thing when they get it increases significantly. David and Schuyler Wanyforth did a couple of talks about this at the LIFE is Good Unschooling conference in 2009 and Pam Sooroshian has written about it from her perspective several times over the years.
As a result of my history and experience, and as unschoolers, we dealt with the subject of alcohol with our kids in the same honest, noncontrolling way. We’ve had the same result. Our teens drink. Sometimes. When they feel like it. As much, or as little, as they want. They are neither afraid of alcohol nor are they addicted to it, as some would fear, given our cultural schizophrenia about this drug. They tell us all about their experiences with alcohol, as with everything else.
My only concern *for my kids* in regard to alcohol is that it is illegal and therefore underage drinkers must be careful not to interact with the legal system when they drink. That’s also true of all other illegal drugs, including the other drug which is legal for adults but illegal for teens, nicotine. For kids who are or have been controlled, well, the results are on the nightly news, feeding the fire of our cultural paranoia about alcohol and other drugs: death from alcohol poisoning, drunk fratboys falling from balconies to be paralyzed forever, deadly car crashes, etc. I contend that these events are *all* the result of gluttonous overindulgence as a response to *attempted* control by parents or other authorities. But that’s enuf of that soapbox.
Yes, our kids talk to us about anything and everything, not because we encourage them to be honest with us but because we are honest with them. Which leads me to the part of this post where I give you a little direct feedback/pushback.
You state categorically that drinking is not healthy. If you told me that in a 1-1 conversation, I’d be tempted to bury you in studies about the health benefits of alcohol in various forms and quantities. When you tell a kid that, you’re really just saying “Drinking is bad and I don’t want you to!” with no factual support and they know it’s bullshit and an effort to control them.
You say that you are not a controlling parent but words are only a small part of our communication as humans. Here online, I only have your words, and even those sound pretty controlling. You say that they know you disapprove, so even if you’re “willing to discuss” with them, they know that ultimately talking is a waste of time and yes I suspect they’re gonna do it without talking to you about it. You also jump from sober to shitfaced drunk with no allowance for middle ground. (They do things when drinking they wouldn’t do sober.) At least, that’s what I hear and I therefore suspect that’s what they hear, too. Not only is there a middle ground, there’s a *huge* middle ground where most people who drink stay without proceeding to Falling-Down-Drunktown. Drinking alcohol does not mean getting shitfaced every time you have access to some booze, unless, maybe, you’ve generally been denied access and feel compelled to overindulge in response.
That’s my $.02 on that.
Not "approve," but we didn't condemn it or threaten them.
-=-Do you encourage your teens to be honest with you about this stuff? Are they? -=-
If you already have teens and you have not established a relationship where they are already honest with you about things, it might be too late. That's a sad-but-true situation. Our kids had been honest with us about things all their lives, because there weren't punishments. We had been helping them be safe and thoughtful their whole lives, and this was just one more thing in a long series of things.
-=-But I wonder if the fact that they KNOW I don't like the idea of underage drinking will cause them to go behind my back, so as not to disappoint me.-=-
It depends on the relationship.
If you are pretty sure they're going to be around alcohol, the most important things to discuss might be safety reminders and arrangements to get home or to stay where they are (if it's a safe place to be) rather than be in public places or moving vehicles after drinking.
Holly was cited once for having alcohol at a party. That account is here, and some of the commentary within and around that might help you with your considerations.
My daughter is 18 now. I also grew up having my own (tiny) glass of wine with meals, and so I never saw alcohol as something adults-only and taboo. I was somewhat worried about my daughter's drinking because her father (and perhaps her two half-sisters) have had serious drinking problems, and I do believe that there's a genetic component to alcoholism... so we talked about that, but I was still okay with her trying alcohol. When she was little she liked the foam on beer but not beer itself, and at 12 or so someone I was dating brought over some sort of fruity alcohol drink that I didn't care for and Rain liked it so she drank it, and felt funny afterwards... and there was occasional drinking (and pot smoking) with her friends from maybe 13 on?
At 17 she joined a women's rugby team and they would go out drinking after games sometimes, and she wouldn't get carded because she was with the team and everyone assumed she was 21 (and she looks older than 18). She does have a fake ID now but she's careful with it, and often uses it to get into places but not drink because the penalties are a lot less for the former in our state.
We were talking about drinking a few weeks ago and she said she'd only been drunk once, in Russia, with the other Americans she was on an exchange with. She didn't like it. She doesn't seem to have inherited any alcoholic tendencies, and usually just has a drink or two. She's welcome to drink in our home and occasionally does, but more often she drinks with her friends, when they're out somewhere or at a party.
We have talked about drinking smart, and I think that's really important. Don't drive drunk, and don't drive with someone who is drunk - call me, call a sober friend, or call a cab and I'll pay you back for the cost. It's never been an issue, but I repeat it every so often, because I did both when I was younger and regret it, even though I was lucky and nothing bad happened. We have also talked about not leaving your drink unattended, not letting a guy you don't know well get your drink for you - she does know a girl who was roofied in a bar, and that's a scary thing. Don't drink with people you don't trust, don't drink at big loud parties that seem likely to be busted (like, near the university)... just basic stuff, and she knows it better than I do probably but it makes me feel like I'm being a good mom to remind her sometimes, and she's okay with it.
Oh, and facebook came up, too... either lock your facebook down tight or untag pictures of you drinking if you're underage, and if you friend, say, your employer, make sure you know how to use filters.
last year, samuel and his friend got drunk for the first time. they were 15. and we were all together at a friend's house for easter. it was box wine and fruity and they were having small cups and didn't realize how much they had. he was silly and needed help to the car and eventually threw up. but i was with him and took care of him. i alternated between laughing hysterically at the things he said and wanting to cry at seeing him so sick. but he was never in trouble, no punishments were given. recently there was wine at a birthday party and they both had some again. this time, they knew how much was too much for them and drank accordingly.
i don't drink, i've been drunk once. i don't really care for the taste or how i feel. my husband was in the middle of very serious alcohol abuse when we met and since detoxing it from his system took a few years he doesn't drink much either. there isn't any attitude that it is wrong, simply that we are choosing for ourselves what we want to do. our kids know that they also have that option and we've talked about the law and how we all feel pretty safe in our home or a friend's but that it's different out in public.
samuel also talks to me about everything, it has always been that way. i attribute that to both his personality and our relationship. and one thing i have learned from him is when i am being controlling or disapproving. he lets me know that even if my words don't say it, my actions, body language, etc. do. he has been raised with respect and knows that our relationship is a two way street so he feels totally comfortable letting me know if i am sending mixed messages about things. which does happen sometimes. kids know when your words and actions are out of sync and will let you know if they feel safe to do so.
i'm gonna second everything frank said about desire and how denial increases that desire. for me it was about food. and that took some deep looks inside myself to work through and continue working through the need to control it in myself and others. you may have some place that this desire to control is coming from, you may not...but i would look for it because it can help in understanding where the need comes from and to begin letting it go.
Ray started out liking to sample beers and other kinds of drinks but then wanted more than that. The trouble was, when told we (me (stepmom), his dad, his bio mom) were uncomfortable with that, he stopped asking but started sneaking around whenever there was drinking going on in homes or parties and snagging sips without permission. Sometimes he'd pour out parts of drinks into a cup for himself. So "just say no" wasn't working. With the help of a family friend, we made a deal with him when he was around 15 which was that he could drink if he did it responsibly - not drunk and stupid, and he needed to be discrete. If he wasn't home it had to be okay with whomever owned the home, because of legal liability issues. We talked about the legal issues, about protecting himself. Because of Ray's looks, he has a higher-than average (for white teens) likelihood of getting arested, so knowing how to protect himself in that sense is something we've talked about off and on over the years.
So if there was alchohol being served at a dinner or party or whatever, he was free to have some and that was fine, he didn't drink a ton - he'd drink a whole beer or two, or glass of wine or two. He got a little tipsy at first, but didn't like it much - he likes to do things like juggle and twirl a fire staff and its hard to do that with a buzz on, so he started to make conscious decisions about not drinking at all before showing off his fire toys at a party.
Within a year of making our deal he left a graduation party where other teens/20-somethings only wanted to drink. He wasn't interested in doing that or being in those kinds of situations. He stopped hanging out with people in their teens for the most part because drinking is the core of the local social scene for teens. He says its all very immature, and I feel good about that assessment. He'd rather drink like a grown-up (responsibly) than one of the kids.
I know he's been drunk a couple times - because he told me, asked advice about hangovers, complained that he couldn't talk well enough to impress a girl when drunk and that was a bummer. He hasn't asked to get drunk, but he hasn't hidden it, either, but most of the time he's not interested. It's dull. He prides himself on being very physically competent, so he dislikes the clumsiness of having too much to drink. He doesn't hang out in situation where people are intentionally being stupid-drunk - there's no excitement in that for him. He's not dependent on those kinds of situations in order to experiment. He doesn't feel any kind of social pressure to drink.
Wow, much to think about! Thank you for all the replies. Yes, I probably do have issues re alcohol. I had a foster brother who was a violent drunk and abused me, so yeah, that's definitely gonna affect me when I think about teens drinking. I see people do stupid things when they're drunk. And I've seen another person who's very close to me slip into unintentional, secretive alcoholism. It's that idea of the "slippery slope" that causes me to fear. I'm concerned that drinking can creep up on people, so to speak. They start off with just one drink, then after doing that for awile, it's not enough to get the same buzz, so they increase it to 2, and so on.
I really don't WANT to be controlling, and I understand what was written about me saying in my words that I"m not being controlling, but in reality by boys do probably feel controlled, in as much as they know it will disappoint me if they drink underage (especially at parties), so they're likely to either not tell me, or tell me and risk disappointment.
I wish my boys had different friends. The crowd that they mix with seem to party and drink a lot, and that's the environment that socialising happens in.
You know how some people say "We unschool everything except math" (which sounds ridiculous to my ears), I think that for me I could say, "I strive for honest, open, mutually respectful, mindful relationships with my kids - in everything except drugs and alcohol" (oh, and the whole teen sex thing too).
I want my kids to be safe, and to be happy. But I also want an unhindered, loving, honest relationship with them. I strongly dislike the idea of secrecy.
Still thinking this one through...
I was pondering my answers to the first question, since my kids are 17, 20, 22. We've dealt with the topic. Then I saw this last post, and thought I'd share. ;). In a nutshell, I would not recommend it. Let me tell you why...
The law about underage drinking is often misunderstood. I know this because I had charges pressed against me last year when my daughter had a big party and there was underage drinking. The charges were dropped, and the whole thing brought up because of some petty teenage girl drama. But it gave me the opportunity to pick the brain of the detective assigned.
The law is the law. You can allow your own child to drink under age, but if you let someone else under 21 year old drink, you are breaking the law. If you buy it for them, it's Providing Alcohol to Minors. If they drink in your presence - even if you don't know - you can be charged for it. This was the shocker for me.
I grew up when the drinking age was 18. I had parties and there was alcohol. People just brought it. It was very commonplace. So I asked the detective, where are they supposed to go to hangout? "Not my house," was her reply, "And not yours either, if you're smart."
I didn't spend any time sticking my nose into their plastic cups. And I did have a non-alcoholic punch available. But I did not purchase alcohol for them. The detective said that unless you can have a chaperone in every dark corner of your yard and you ARE willing to check everyone's cup, you simply shouldn't host the party. Times are different, and so are the laws. Fines and jail time are regularly given. It's on a continuum, of sorts. The penalty for unwittingly allowing it would be different from buying and sitting on the couch with them. But you get the drift.
Because if something bad happens when they leave your house, the question will be asked, "where did they get it?" and "who was the 'adult in charge'?"
Thanks for the personal experience story, Sue. It highlights my problem with this: I recognise that my children are free to make their own choices, as I am. And I want them to enjoy a life of freedom, and I don't want something like alcohol to be this "forbidden fruit" that makes it more desirable to them. And yet, like you say, the law is the law, and the underage drinking law is part of this society we live in. I could say to my boys, this is the law: You're allowed to have a drink at home with me, but not out of the house, and no other underage kids can have booze here either. But it seems that the appeal of drinking is drinking with mates, at parties etc.... I do think it's sad if someone feels like they need to have a drink to feel relaxed and have a good time. I've been looking up the laws for the State I live in (NSW Australia) and I can definitely give me own children alcohol at my house, but my kids friends are a different matter it seems. Fines of $5,500 up to $11,000 and up to 12 months in jail. Unlikely to happen I guess, but still.....
I think instead of saying "you're allowed" or "you're not allowed" I'd say something like, "Here's the law, and here are my concerns." If my daughter and a couple of underage friends were over watching movies and wanted to have a few beers and were planning to crash here for the night I wouldn't have a problem with it, legal or not (and I do find it ridiculous that some of these kids who live on their own and support themselves can't drink legally in the U.S.). They're not the type of people to go off and get drunk and do loud, stupid stuff, and the cops are pretty unlikely to be poking around in my basement. They know it's against the law, so they're careful. The same with my kid drinking elsewhere: she knows the law, and we've talked about that, and it seems to me that if she keeps being smart about where, when, and with whom she drinks, the chances of her being arrested for it are small.
Of course, if your kid or his friends are the type to get drunk and go out and do stupid stuff, well, I'd talk to them about that, too...
I like that way of wording it, Sarah.
So apart from that one incident, here's how I handle it now.
I do let a couple people who are not planning to drive and are planning to stay here overnight go ahead and drink. I either know their family, and how their parents would react or they are people who are living on their own.
I tell my own kids that if they are out and WANT to drink, they should call me to be their ride home. I don't care what the time is. We have lots of conversations about the details and I'm really clear about my fears of drinking and driving. And my fear for their friends who drink heavily. They have gravitated away from the "hard core partiers," or at least see them in other settings.
The key, for us...open communication. lots of details and specifics. no punishments or reprimands. And I think we're at a pretty good place on this topic these days.
My parents had a blanket no drinking or taking drugs rule. Unfortunately they knew stuff all about drugs and I tried them all! Had a ball lol but it's obviously not an optimal life choice. I don't think that we can have blanket bans on things because it closes a route of communication between you and your child of any age, and in particular teens.
Given my own history it would be completely contradictory of me to ban the kids from trying drugs, however, given my history I can also talk to them openly about my experiences in a way that a number of parents would be unable to do. In a perfect world my kids will never try drinking or drugs, in reality, only time will tell. I think that as long as you keep the communication open you have a better chance of getting them through it unscathed!
Talk tak talk! And let them know you love them unconditionally and that you don't judge them for stuffing up.