Consider this a starting point. A few nuggets to get your mind thinking about a plan that will work best for your family. There’s no one-size-fits-all-solution that will magically work for everyone but listening to other parents’ experiences and supporting each other certainly helps!

When my kids were toddlers and I used to complain about all our “issues” my dad used to say “As your kids get bigger, the challenges get bigger too.” You can say THAT again. Adolescence presents a whole new slew of challenges you may or may not be ready for like underage drinking, dating, sexting, drugs, smoking and whatever else you want to add.

You can dream up all the ideals you hope for how your teen will behave but you will soon realize that you don’t get to choose. Even if you “forbid” drinking or dating, it will happen and unfortunately, they will decide when that is. And just like that, what used to be your sheltered innocent child is now a risk taking impulsive thrill seeking teen and you will ask yourself “How can this be? How can my sweet child be downing a concoction of the hardest liquors in 5 Minutes?”  Well, it happens. Mostly due to lack of education. Nearly 72% of teenagers have consumed alcohol by the end of high school according to SADD (Students Against Destructive Decisions). You were young once too! So get your head out of the sand and figure out what you will do when it happens. Oh! And if you’re lucky and your teen isn’t interested in drinking, you still have to educate them about it.

I’m a huge fan of proactive parenting. In Europe kids learn how to drink before they learn how to drive. It’s not uncommon that wine is served at family gatherings and 10-12 year olds get a small glass. It’s not a bad idea … so we gave it a try. (Let me be really clear: I have no idea what “the right thing” to do is. I am treading carefully over here doing the best I can with the teens I have. Open non-judgmental communication works, and our job as parents of teens is to prepare them for independence so I thought I’d try the European way). We let our teens taste wine and discovered my son likes it, my daughter doesn’t. They tried beer. She prefers beer over wine, he’s not a huge fan. This led to talking about other options which you will see in a minute.

What we DON’T want:  Let’s agree that the last thing we want is to get a call saying “Your teen is trashed to the point of  throwing up. She’s now passed out and I saw bystanders taking videos.” The thought of my child being taken advantage of because she had too much to drink is very scary. And because they don’t know how powerful alcohol is, kids often get alcohol poisoning too.

So what DO we want? We want to feel comfortable that we’ve taught our teens (to the best of our ability) to have good judgement, know their limits and have an exit plan. But the problem is after they’ve consumed the alcohol their judgment is impaired! So no matter how hard we try to “prepare” them, expect that they will still cross the line — but that’s not necessarily a bad thing either. Imagine your teen goes to a party and he gets smashed. He throws up and it’s a big scene. You are furious. He wakes up with a hangover … and a lesson … but he does it again the following weekend. It may happen several more times before he graduates high school but best he learns about stupid decision making now than after he moves out and discovers it on his own! Imagine he goes off to University – never having experienced being drunk –  he goes on reckless binge drinking episodes that lead him into risky behavior and an aggressive attitude that results in fighting. Or your innocent daughter goes to a frosh week party and gets smashed (for the first time) and passes out in a bedroom. What we want is that even if they find themselves in situations that have gotten out of control, they have the ability to recognize the escalation and start thinking about an exit plan. I will explain…

Teens are nervous and confused as they face their first opportunities to try alcohol and they are interested in hearing our opinions about it. Don’t use this time to lecture or use language like “illegal”, “bad for your health” or other nonsense unless you like when your teen tunes you out. Talk to your kids about specifics they can relate to and discretely inject family limits and boundaries like:

  • Alcohol percentages vary: Beer 5%, Wine 14%, Coolers 7%, Vodka 40%
  • Beer is cheaper than vodka.
  • Scotch and whiskey are off limits – too strong for adolescent brains.
  • Hard liquor makes you more aggressive.
  • Going somewhere where there will be drinking? Try one drink. Enjoy the whole thing. Feel what one has done to your body. You will feel a little buzzed, you’ll maybe act silly and laugh a lot. Observe what others are doing around you. Who’s drinking too fast? Who’s already drunk? Have some water.
  • Don’t mix a bunch of hard liquors together and down it BECAUSE YOU CAN GET ALCOHOL POISONING.
  • Don’t like beer or wine? Try this cooler – tastes good, but it’s 7% alcohol so you can only have one (This gives them other options). Don’t like anything that’s being offered? Secretly pour the drink out and refill it with water.
  • Come up with “exit plans”: Your friend is passed out and non-responsive. What do you do?; You realize that your last drink made you way too drunk. What do you do? … Those kinds of scenarios.

Knowledge is power. The better you are at controlling your emotions and reactions when your teen openly shares his/her experiences with you, the more they will tell you. And the more you will continue to grow together.

“You have a challenge. You can decide whether to influence or to control your teens, whether to raise their self-confidence (empower) or to run their lives (enable). You can focus either on building skills or on doing things for your teens to protect them. Parents often use the excuse that teens can make mistakes that could kill them or ruin their lives forever, but this is true at any age. Focusing on this fear invites parents to try to control their teens’ lives rather than letting go so they can live their own lives.” (Positive Discipline For Teenagers by Jane Nelsen)