Should I Allow my Child to Drink on Junior Cert Results Night?

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It’s a question that’s bothering parents all over Ireland today. Probably even more so this year as it falls on a Friday. Kids are coming home from school asking if they can go out, can they drink, can they drink at home? C’mon just the one?? You’re so boring… Everyone else has cooler parents… Can they have their friends over for a couple of cans – nothing too heavy, no spirits in fairness…

In fairness…

In fairness, they are under pressure to drink. Some of that pressure is from their friends, some of it from us and our drink obsessed culture. Adults pressure each other to drink, albeit unwittingly and without malice. And some pressure kids to drink, and that’s definitely unwittingly and absolutely without malice.

We even make it cute…

The evidence:

Contrary to popular belief, and somewhat counter-intuitively, there is no evidence that allowing kids to drink at home reduces the chances of them developing into problem drinkers. In fact, a growing body of evidence  (see below) appears to say the opposite. This is likely due to the issue of boundary setting and role modeling – although we can’t be sure of course.

The Red Herrings:

We think that drinking at home is a controlled environment – that’s true. So do we want kids to drink safely in a controlled environment? Yes! Great.
BUT: is having a can with the parents fun or daring? No. So if we let them drink at home, what will likely happen is they will then go out and drink more on top of what you’ve already allowed them to have. Furthermore, any normal teenager will push the boundaries and have a sneaky shot or an extra can above what you’ve allowed.

Because that’s what normal teenagers do. It’s practically their job!

Another logic we have is that they’ll trust us more if we allow them to drink with us. That might be true. It’s an ideal situation and it genuinely does appear to work for some parents. For others they will find that the teen simply takes advantage – because again, that’s their job – and this leads to whatever behaviour you’re trying to accommodate to become out of control.

Whatever we give a child or teen, they will want more. That's perfectly normal and no-one's fault. tweet to another exhausted parent

I have met and worked with teens who have very mixed feelings when their parents allow them to drink. At some level they wonder – How safe is this? Why is my parent OK with breaking the law? Does my parent (or my friend’s parent) have any clue what’s really going on? Does my parent have an issue with alcohol? These are questions I have heard teen clients ponder aloud.

Maybe you’ve been told that other parents are allowing their kids to drink at home, or even outside the home – and here’s the thing – some of them are. They’re not making it up! But each parent must feel empowered and free to make that choice for themselves. Every family is different, and has a different set of boundaries. You get to decide what is best for your child. You don’t have to do what other parents are doing. You don’t have to do what I’m going to suggest either of course. Different from you does not necessarily mean better than you.

The “Rite of Passage” Thing

Another red herring is the rite of passage one: drinking in Ireland is a rite of passage yes. We all know it, most of us have done it. I have – and I will never touch Vodka again. Even the thought… A lot of us have difficulty as adults with bingeing – we may not even be aware of it – or want to be. But does this mean that we sit back and throw the hands up and say “Sure that’s teens for ya! It was bound to happen – I did it too! “?

Or is that simply avoiding the responsibility that comes with “adulting”?

Have things changed?

Society has changed yes. For the better in most ways despite all the complaints we have. But the dynamics of parenting and the basics of raising healthy kids remain the same and probably always will. But I guess we know more about that now than we used to:

We know, for example, that teens rebel – we know that we should hope for it in fact. It’s such a wonderful part of teen energy – annoying though it can be! But if they’ve nothing to fight against then how are they to tell what’s OK and acceptable and healthy and what isn’t? If your teen gets caught drinking or behaving poorly because of drink, ignore it at your (and more importantly, at their) peril. If there are no consequences, just a chat or a giggle, it will happen again, guaranteed, and probably in a more dramatic way. Because that’s how we’re all built. Your child won’t think you’re awesome and cool for ‘getting’ their drink culture.

They’re not thinking about you and your parenting – they’re thinking about the next time they can party.

A teenager…not pondering her parenting…

Naturally!

So all they learn from the giggle is that, bottom line, this behaviour is acceptable, at best.

What Can I Do?

Our job as adults is to set the rules. Then (sorry) we must expect them to be broken! It’s not personal when that happens. We just need to issue consistent consequences and start again. And yes, it might happen again. It usually takes a few goes.

If your teen’s misdemeanours with their “rites of passage” are amusing then enjoy giggles with your friends! Some of the funniest nights I’ve had with my friends are hearing stories being swapped of the antics their teens get up to and think they’ve gotten away with. But in front of your teen, please be OK with being tough. Approachable yes, but boundaried. A parent who “gets” what’s normal but doesn’t necessarily allow or facilitate it, even if they know it’s probably still going to happen.

SOooooo???

Should I let them drink? For me, it's a no. Will they drink anyway? Probably, yes. But - #notthepoint #parenting #underagedrinking #boundaries #teens Click To Tweet

So should you allow them to drink on results night? I’m going to go with “no”  (although in truth, I  reeeeeally hate the word “should”). That doesn’t mean they won’t. But it means they know that you are concerned about them, their bodies and their mental health. And then if and when they drink, and you catch them, or someone tells you, or you’re called by a guard/pub owner or worse, you decide what the consequences will be.

It will all be over in a few years. You can have a laugh with them about it then – over a drink maybe!

And if they have their own kids you can laugh and say “Good luck with the teen years LOL”. In the meantime, good luck to you – it’s the hardest job!

Further reading (academic articles):

Providing Alcohol for Underage Youth: What Messages Should We Be Sending Parents?

Association of parental supply of alcohol with adolescent drinking, alcohol-related harms, and alcohol use disorder symptoms: a prospective cohort study

Socioeconomic Differences in Alcohol-Specific Parenting Practices and Adolescents’ Drinking Patterns

Parent attitudes, family dynamics and adolescent drinking: qualitative study of the Australian parenting guidelines for adolescent alcohol use

Effects of home access and availability of alcohol on young adolescents’ alcohol use

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