OK Parents, What’s Your Position on Teen Drinking?

Posted May 15, 2012 by jimhigley

The Chicago Tribune TribLocal asked me to put some thoughts together pertaining to teenage drug and alcohol use. It’s a tough subject to write about – I desperately want to get it “right.” But I don’t know all the right answers. So I’m going to go with what’s in my heart…

Teenage drug and alcohol use. Just writing those words brings me a sense of unrest. Maybe it’s because the more I learn, the more I realize how much I don’t know.

I’ve raised one child to legal age. I have one who is within months of being 21. And I still have one in the thick of the pressures of high school. I know all too well – from past experience with others in my family – how real alcohol use and abuse is. I’ve worked with  and interviewed some of our country’s leading authorities on the subject.

And yet I still feel grossly limited in my knowledge. Perhaps that’s because I’ve come to understand there isn’t a silver bullet to all of this. And because this issue is wrapped around the lives of teens and their families, I find it excruciatingly important.

While I’d never profess to know everything, a few of the things I’ve learned along the journey of parenting include:

  1. The conversation must start early. Starting this conversation in middle school is too late. I’d start real conversations in the early years of grade school.
  2. Modeling healthy lifestyles starts with mom and dad. Like everything else, kids watch and see all of our actions. If you have a healthy lifestyle – as their parent – it is a step in the right direction. More importantly, if you don’t have a healthy lifestyle, your kids are at a disadvantage.
  3. Kids will accept rules. Honestly. You must have house rules that everyone must follow when in your home. Kids want to be kids. Rules help them be kids.
  4. “Everyone” isn’t doing it. Granted, you and your kids may be in the minority. As a parent, you have to recognize the pressure your child is under.
  5. Drinking in the “safety of your home” is not safe. It sends mixed messages that are very confusing for kids.
  6. Weed is not an acceptable alternative to alcohol. There’s a growing belief that weed is an acceptable substitute for alcohol. It isn’t. The acceptable alternative to drinking is living healthy and making healthy choices. That’s what I try to instill in my kids.
  7. No tolerance is an acceptable family position. This is hard. Painfully hard. But study after study confirms that – in our country -this is the most effective position.
  8. Parents who look the other way are doing their kids a disservice. There’s a trend for parents to start to relax (ignore) their kid’s actions when they become juniors. Parenting isn’t over at that point. Especially with this topic. Stick with it.
  9. Kids who enter college with zero (or very limited) alcohol use do better. Some parents believe it’s better to “ease” their kids into drinking so they are better able to handle themselves in college. The truth is (and studies prove) that kids who enter college with no alcohol use (or very, very little) are far more likely to succeed. Those who enter college with moderate to high alcohol use are far more likely to struggle or drop out of college.
  10. Did I mention the conversation must start early?

Is this the perfect list? Not a chance. But it’s what’s at the top of my head when the issue knocks on my door.

And what are a few specific things you need to do? Well, according to my friend and one of the country’s leading authorities on teen alcohol and drug use, Jeff Wolfsberg, here are four specific suggestions:

  1. Take care of yourself. Really. You need to be healthy – physically and emotionally – to be the parent your child needs you to be.
  2. Be physically awake when your kids come home. This is important. If your child knows you will be awake and talk to them, it will have in impact on their choices.
  3. Show up and make telephone calls. Don’t be afraid to make an appearance if they are out at a public location. Additionally, call the parents of homes they are going to. Ask questions. Make sure you understand what kind of rules (or lack of) they are exposed to.
  4. Be open. To everything. Never, never, never assume your child is not getting into problems. Every teen is vulnerable. Be aware. Be open.

So what things would you add to the list? 






  • http://www.linkedin.com/in/annelizhannan Anneliz Hannan

    Jim, valuable post. The only thing I can think of is to be their parents, not their friends. They can find plenty of friends but not plenty of parents.

  • Prevention

    This post has great information for parents.
    Other things for parents to consider:
    1. Keep track of alcohol in your home. Teens say that alcohol is easy to get and the most common sources are from a friend, at a party or taking it from their home withouth their parent’s knowledge.
    2. Know who your teen is with, where they are going and if there will be adults (parents) to supervise. Check with those parents to make sure that they have the same rules and expectations that you do.
    3. If you think your child is using drugs or alcohol, don’t be afraid to get help. Kids who start using alcohol before the age of 15 are 5 times more likely to have problems with alcohol later in  life.