“My son is 16 and he’s just reached the age where he’s going to parties where kids are consuming alcohol,” she wrote. “He knows he shouldn’t drink, because he’s underage, but the reality is that there will be drinking around him. How do I help him cope with the pressure that will inevitably come from his peers? I’ve told him that he can always call me if he can’t handle a situation, but are there ways I can help him navigate this?”
Adolescence is a time when parents often feel like they can step back from the parenting role, thinking that the hard work is done. The truth is that teenagers need their parents more than ever. There are many things you can do to help your son make good choices and stay away from potentially problematic situations. Look for ways to connect and keep him talking to you and trusting your advice.
Sometimes, peers play a huge role in teenagers’ lives. You need to strengthen the relationship with your son as much as possible so he doesn’t have to rely on peers to tell him how things should be.
There are a number of ways to do this:
-- Weekly family video or game nights
-- Holidays with just family
-- Have his friends come to your house to hang out so that you can get to know them and they know you
-- Dinner as a family every night
Another thing you should consider is getting to know the parents of the youths your son likes to be with.
Some parents have regular coffee dates to compare notes. One group of parents I know created a “book club” where, instead of discussing books, they got together to talk about their kids and keep on top of their activities.
When your son is invited to a party, always phone the host parents to see if there is anything you can send along. That way, you’ll be sure the parents are aware there is a party and you can ask about the level of supervision they plan to have.
Have a clear curfew and always be awake enough to talk to your son when he gets home at night. Be willing to pick him up or have him take a taxi whenever he calls saying he needs to come home. You can always discuss the events later to problem-solve the situation for another time.
Keep talking with your son about your values around drinking and drugs and model the behaviour you wish him to emulate, keeping the lines of communication open.
Let him use you as an excuse to get out of something he does not want to do. More than once when my children were in their teens, I would hear them on the phone telling a friend that they would love to go but their mum would not let them.
In truth, I had not even been asked, but was happy to be a face-saving excuse.
Parenting a teenager is probably the most demanding stage of parenting, but it’s also immensely rewarding when you see them emerge into adulthood.
Having been involved in raising four children who are now successful adults, I have some advice that I think may be helpful. We bought each of our teenagers a “cab card” that was billed to our account, which we paid every month. The deal was that if they used the card, we would ask no questions.
We had found out earlier that although we always said “call us anytime, night or day and we will pick you up,” they never did, because if they had made a bad decision or were in a bad situation — perhaps drinking or drunk — they would not necessarily make the good decision to phone us. They might make the bad decision to try it alone or take a ride with a driver who had been drinking. With a cab card in their wallets, it was an easy out. We feel that the small costs we paid were well worth the safety of our children. They never abused the card and we kept it going until they had graduated from university.
When you’re a parent of a teen, you have to learn how to be a consultant, because chances are, you have already been fired as the general manager. To be an effective consultant, you need to be knowledgeable. You also need to be a calm and safe person to talk to.
Consultants don’t freak out when their client talks and they don’t punish them or take away their cellphones when they make a mistake.
First, you have to know your facts. Why is alcohol a problem for teens? There are many reasons beyond the legal drinking age. Things to consider are the negative impact alcohol has on a developing teen brain, addiction, alcohol poisoning and the most likely scenario: the major drama that often comes with alcohol use. The next step is to deal with your own anxiety so you don’t keep trying to go back to being the general manager. This requires deep breathing, perspective-taking and a hobby, because it is so easy to obsess about your kids when they are teens.
If your son is talking to you, be a good listener. If he expresses concerns about peer pressure, ask him what has worked for him in the past. Pull out information that he already knows (consultant) and then, if you have any ideas yourself, throw them in without taking over the problem.
Showing him respect for the difficulty of the problem and his ability to navigate will continue to build trust. When you want to share things that you are concerned about, try to do that when you are both in a good frame of mind. Keep your comments factual rather than catastrophic, because too often, parents sound “totally paranoid.”
Practise the greeting ritual as much as you can. Every time you pick up your teen from school or from a friend’s house or even just first thing in the morning, take 10 minutes to be pleasant. Don’t nag, ask a bunch of questions or lecture about the importance of being responsible. Smile, nod, talk about the latest news or not and don’t bug them. This helps the teen feel more relaxed in your company and it gives them a chance to talk to you if they need to. Finally, your role modeling will go a long way, so if you drink, remember, somebody is watching you.
What do you do when your child idolizes someone who you don’t really want him to be friends with? This boy is manipulative and has been caught in lies (stories my son believes). My son is eight and it seems that whenever this boy is around, there’s trouble. But my son thinks the world of him.
Do you have any advice for this parent? Are you struggling with a parenting dilemma? Send your input to firstname.lastname@example.org. Please put “the parent rap” in the subject line. Questions about kids from infants to teens welcome.
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