Wednesday, June 13, 2012

There Is Always A First Time: When Your Teen First Tests The "Drinking" Water

There is always the shock when you're "little baby" does the unthinkable. I don't think a parent is ever really prepared for the first time their teen is caught drinking and/or with alcohol. You have talked to them till you are blue in the face about drinking and how dangerous it is. One parent shared her story with me recently. A child of an alcoholic herself,  and who has a brother who is an addict, she had had conversation after conversation with her teen about the dangers of addiction, and the possibility of genetic addiction for him should he become a drinker or drug user. This mom just had her "first time."

Like many parents, she just didn't think her 15 year was anywhere near the place where he would be interested in drinking, and thought that she had done a brilliant job of putting the fear of god in him! Like many parents, she was naive and hadn't yet "teen proofed" her home. This process involves locking up any and all alcohol in your home including the beer, and wine, and making sure that all prescription drugs are locked up as well. These are temptations that your teens and and their friends will hunt out in your home. Where else do you think teens get their booze? Anyway..this mom had a garage refrigerator that was full of beer, and one evening she came home unexpectedly and found her 15 year with a beer. As she described her own reaction, she said it felt like a PTSD reaction after all she had gone through with her own family. Many of you might have the same reaction. An OMG moment;"Is this the beginning of my son/daughters downward spiral into alcohol abuse."

OK this is a deep breath moment. I don't care how much and for how long you have been warning your teens about the ills of alcohol and drugs. That DOES NOT temper their curiosity, it may delay it, which honestly I think for this 15 year old was the case. Most kids are presented with plenty of opportunity well before they are 15. Some succumb to the temptation either at a house party, or hanging in the park with their friends, or at a sleepover where many "sins" are committed. Parents asleep, floors away, freedom to do as they please.

How you react to this first experience will be the foundation for whatever else is to come in the future with your teen around the drug and alcohol issue. So you want to take your time, and not just react with anger, disappointment and punishment. If you go to that place than your teen will go further underground with their behavior, and begin using avoidance and lying, something you want to avoid at all costs. So here is what you can do when that "first time" happens to you.

Here is your I Get It conversation: This should be said in a loving, calm tone. " Honey, first of all I am sorry we left this beer/wine/booze in the house. I think it was a temptation we didn't give enough thought to. Having it so available, along with your curiosity and desire to try it is a bad combination. I am sorry we put you in that position. (this helps to start a conversation from a supportive place rather than an angry place. Your teen will be more likely to actually talk with you) Tell us what happened, how you decided to drink? Have you tried it before? ( Assure them you will not punish them you just want to help them make better decisions, and this will help you do that. Hopefully you will get some more information here) I get you are going to be in situations where alcohol and drugs will be available to you. I know we have talked to you about how dangerous starting to use this stuff is, but I also know that doesn't help in the moment when you have the booze or drugs right there in your face. That is really a hard moment. Let's try to come up with some strategies that will help you in those times. "

At this point you should come up with actual scenarios where they might be facing this dilemma; parties, sleepovers, hang time with friends, and what they could say or do. " I can't my parents drug test me, or smell my breath, check my eyes, they are like living with cops. or I am on allergy medication and alcohol makes me puke." Provide them with a script and a way out that saves face that gets them out of the situation. Most kids do things they know are wrong, because they don't know what else to do.  And for gods sake, get everything locked up in your house!!!!!!! Make sure that you are the parent pickup person, so you can see the condition they are in when they come back from parties. If they know you are picking them up, they will be less likely to drink or do drugs.

Your kids will make mistakes, many of them. It doesn't make them bad kids. They need to know that you are on top of this stuff, that you know that the opportunities are out there, and that you want to help them make safe decisions. Having a consequence like having to stay in for a weekend is fine, but don't go overboard, and ground them for a month or longer. It doesn't work anyway, and will just make them angry with you and shut down the communication that is absolutely the most important part of this. If they think that you are always disappointed in them, they will not come to you for help. And you want them to come to you for help. Who else is there???? Stay tuned for tomorrow's blog where I will address: Your teen's personality style and how it plays into drinking and drugs


  1. Great thoughts Joani. Thank you for some conversation starters.