Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Teenage problems

This past Friday Wendy and I were walking with Elli to a family dinner outing and had a conversation about teenage problems.  Specifically we were discussing what Elli would or could do in all kinds of situations surrounding alcohol.  Initially I just wanted her to understand that she should feel free to bring any problems or worries to us without fear of punishment in the years to come, but it turns out she already had a bunch of ideas on the subject.

What was so interesting to me was that she had lots of scenarios mapped out in her head.  She was thinking about specific locations, compositions of people, and other factors and was trying to figure out how she would respond.  The running theme was people offering her alcohol when she wasn't interested in partaking, and it seems she has no interest in trying out booze at all.

We have offered her a little bit of alcohol on a number of occasions and she has never said yes.  I am firmly of the belief that we should train children to deal with alcohol and other drugs by being honest about our own usage and exposing them to the idea of moderate, careful experimentation.  "Don't drink until you are 19, then go wild" is a recipe for disaster in my opinion.  I think a taste of alcohol for young children, escalating to a partial drink for tweens and then a drink or two for middling teenagers is the way to go.  Let them get a sense of what it is and take part in social rituals that involve alcohol in a responsible way and I think they will be less likely to go nuts when they can finally drink legally in public.

But Elli has always turned us down.  She seems to have no interest at all in alcohol, though she has never given us any particular reason for that.

Which is fine!  Pressuring a kid to try a bit of alcohol is obviously right out, but I think the offer of a carefully moderated small dose is a good one to have as a default.

We spent some time brainstorming possible ways she could cope with all the situations she came up with, and Wendy and I tried hard to always present multiple responses.  The idea is to make it clear that she never has to say yes to pressure to drink, and that if she needs out of that sort of situation she should feel free to do so in whatever way is necessary.  Friends who try to pressure you into inebriation aren't really friends, so lie, cheat, or sneak your way out if you have to.

I really want her to understand and believe that if she does end up barfing on somebody's lawn due to some poor choices she can still call us and ask for help without worry that we are going to have a fit.  We would certainly have a talk about how that was probably a bad idea, but I don't think meting out punishments for such overindulgences actually helps prevent them in future.

What I don't know is if any of this will actually help.  I made it clear semantically that we will help her out and that we don't mind experimentation but we hope for moderation, but I know that parents struggle to instill virtues and ideas in their children quite consistently.  Can I really expect to be different?  The trouble is that so often these things happen so randomly.  One particular friend, one special (or disastrous) party, and the course of a child's life can be altered dramatically.  I can't control those things.

The only thing I can do is to try to instill some simple ideas into her head:  Experiment, but do it slowly and carefully.  We will help you, even if you do something disastrous.  If you don't want to do something, get the hell out even if other people are trying to push you in.

I hope that is enough.


  1. There is definitely an amusing irony in the fact that being open and accepting of the facts that drug use and the like are things that happen, and not panicking about it or cracking down or insisting that these things are "only for grown-ups" makes all of those things seem less shiny or interesting, or important as rites of passage or proof of maturity, which is I think a driving force behind a lot of teenagers' impatience to do the things regardless of their actual desires. If it's not rebellious, if it's not forbidden and mysterious, drinking just seems kind of meh.

    You're definitely modelling healthy attitudes around all these things, and as you already know, there isn't much else you can do. Which is to say, I also hope it's enough <3

  2. When she's a bit older you'll likely want to have a conversation about Rhetaya Parsons (sp?). Her mom did a TEDx talk in tbay this year. It was heavy stuff but important for young people to hear (and not-so-young people too)