Drinking – When Parents Disagree

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Susan and Jeff, parents to 16-year-old son Sean, recently learned that he has been drinking at parties. Sue is concerned about her son but Jeff sees the partying as a harmless rite of passage. How can Sue convince Jeff that they need to step in?
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(knock, knock at the door)
SUSAN: Jeff, I want to talk some more about the situation with Sean and the drinking. I’m really concerned and I think we should talk to him about what’s going on.
JEFF: Sue, you’re fooling yourself if you think that kids aren’t going to drink. It’s part of being a teenager. We did it. I really don’t see what the big deal is, as long as he’s not driving.
SUSAN: How do we even know if he’s not driving if we don’t talk about it with him?
JEFF: I’m sure he’s not driving, he knows better. He’s getting older and I think some exposure to alcohol can help teach him how to drink responsibly. We’re doing the right thing here.
SUSAN: But by not saying anything to him, we’re basically telling him it’s okay to break the law and do who knows what else. What does that teach him?
JEFF: I think it shows him that we trust him to make the right decisions and to be responsible.
SUSAN: Jeff – that is a really slippery slope. If we allow him to drink, what else will he think is “okay” to do? Teens don’t drink “no matter what.” We are his parents and we can influence his choices. It’s our responsibility to do that.
JEFF: It’s also our responsibility to be realistic about teenagers. The last thing we need with him right now is another heated argument.
SUSAN: It’s just that I think we are really neglecting our obligation to teach him about right and wrong. We drank and remember the kinds of situations we found ourselves in? We’re lucky nothing happened to us. We want better for our son.
JEFF: (pause) Sue, a lot of teenagers drink. Even the police know that!
SUSAN: All I’m saying is that, as his parents, we should be setting the bar higher. It’s our job. Alcohol is not risk-free. Teens process it differently than adults, it can affect their developing brain and there are all kinds of dangers involved.
JEFF: I think you’re exaggerating the risks.
SUSAN: I just read that the younger a person is exposed to alcohol, the more likely it is he’ll have social, mental or physical problems. Not to mention bad decisions from impaired judgment. It could really limit his potential. He needs to wait until he’s really a grown up – not just playing like one.
JEFF: Okay, okay. So what do you propose we do?
SUSAN: I think it’s important for us to be unified….we need to talk to him about our expectations and concerns. Let’s start a dialogue with him so he knows we’re plugged into his life and knows what the consequences are if he drinks again.
JEFF: Alright, we’ll try our best.

What the Experts Say:

Help for Divorced or Single Parents
If you are a parent who is single, divorced, or separated, raising your teenager may bring additional challenges. If you know or suspect that your teenager is using drugs, you may want to reach out to your extended family and friends for help with this problem. Although difficult, you may also need to talk with your ex-spouse, or the child’s parent, in order to create a consistent plan for establishing and enforcing a no-tolerance drug policy.

Firmly and warmly make it very clear that he or she will not tolerate drug or alcohol use by your teen. Identify the consequences if he or she does use. All parents find it hard to set and enforce rules, but it’s particularly hard for single parents who are hesitant and don’t want to disrupt the balance of the relationship with their teen. For these parents, it might help to commiserate with your teen. For example you could say, I know it’s difficult that I have to make these rules. But I wouldn’t be a good parent if I didn’t take care of and protect your safety.

Lastly, continue to help your child grow his/her relationships with grandparents, cousins, uncles, and aunts in order for him/her to have valuable role models besides yourself. Also remember to be available to listen if your teen is having difficulties dealing with your divorce. Use consistent discipline in your home and attempt to communicate with your child’s father/mother in order to continue to enforce the same rules in both households. Make clear rules about curfews and be consistent about asking your teen which friends he/she is hanging out with. Be particularly attentive about knowing where your teenager is after school, especially if you are working long hours.