Talking to High School Kids About Alcohol

A few years ago a mom was telling me that her talk with her 18 year old daughter included, “Don’t drink too much.” And she’d go on to explain that her daughter was about to go to college anyhow and it wasn’t like she could control her in college. I gasped hearing this as my kids were still quite young and in a rare moment of self awareness, said nothing.

I’m pleased I said nothing because as my kids have grown the alcohol conversation has evolved.

When they were tiny it was, “Alcohol is for adults.”

Then it was, “Yes, you can put a little beer/wine on your tongue.” And when they made a face we all laughed.

Now the conversation is decidedly different. Every high school party will have drugs and alcohol. Here’s what I’ve told my kids, repeatedly.

On marijuana: Please don’t use it until after you’re 22. Your frontal lobe isn’t fully formed until that point in time and no one knows if it leads to depression or if depression leads to marijuana use. Either way let’s just leave that as an adult activity.

On cigarettes: cigarettes and e-cigarettes are insidious. They are never to be tried. They exist only to be addictive and this is something neither of my children are to try. Ever. They will be punished. There is no negotiating here.

On alcohol and cars: “You are never to get in a car with someone who has been drinking. Ever.” This is a mistake that can be impossible to recover from. Both kids have Uber on their phone and both kids know that they’ll never be punished for being in the wrong place if they just get themselves home. They have permission to make other parents angry if they don’t want to get in a car with them. They have permission to make us angry. My children have been told a hundred ways that they don’t have to get in the car with anyone they feel is unsafe at any time. If their cell phones die they can call 911 and say they’re a stranded minor. If they don’t feel like it’s an emergency they can call 311 and say they’re a stranded minor. The drink drive issue is the one I’ve hammered my kids with more than most others.

On parties and teen drug and alcohol use: We need to talk about it. We need to talk a lot. Every party the kids go to in high school (and many parties in middle school) has drugs or alcohol. Right now it’s only marijuana but I’m certain that will escalate. My kids can go to parties where kids are drinking and/or smoking so long as they tell me what happened at the party. I have sworn that if they tell me which kids are drinking that they will still be allowed to be friends with them and that I won’t treat the kids differently. This is surprisingly easily accomplished. They’re kids, they’re going to do dumb stuff and still be basically great kids. I can forget that someone tasted vodka and that someone else tried pot. It’s okay.

The parties end if I find out that there’s been drinking and drugs from another parent or another child. I’m totally okay with my kids going to parties, having fun with their friends and making good decisions for themselves. When the communication shuts down their wings get clipped.

So far, so good. My kids are surrounded by really great kids. They’ve chosen their friends wisely and I’m sure that everyone will make a mistake. So long as no one gets behind the wheel of a car I think we can keep the stakes low.

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