New Years Eve - a time to celebrate and put closure to the past as we embrace the excitement of whats to come. For parents of teenagers however, this evening can be a much different experience - one filled with anxiety, fear and frustration. Most likely, your teenager has been planning their New Year's Eve celebration for quite some time - where they will be going, who will be invited and how they will be gaining access to alcohol.
Yes, our hope is that alcohol does not make an appearance at the party. That your child and his or her friends are simply enjoying an evening together as they welcome in the new year. But its your role as their guardian to think ahead - to be realistic and honest with yourself about what could potentially occur at such a social outing.
Many parents become paralyzed at the thought of how to handle a situation where their child arrives home from a party intoxicated. Do you chalk it up to normal teenage behavior? Do you ostracize them from their peers who may potentially be a negative influence?
The truth is that there is no clear cut answer. You as their parent are responsible for using your best judgment, based on your own family’s values, your child’s behavior historically and the details surrounding the evening. You know your child best - and if you believe in your heart that your child is incapable of making healthy choices when put in a vulnerable position, then it is your obligation to ensure that they do not attend certain events. With that being said, if your child does historically abide by the rules and avoid getting him or herself into potentially dangerous situations, then there are certain steps you can take to help ensure a safe evening.
1. It is essential that both parents are on the same page
Too often, we hear of situations where one parent is adamantly against their child drinking while the other simply sees it as typical teenage behavior that should be expected. Unfortunately, this disconnect between the parents can create not only a tense environment at home, but also could send mixed messages to your child. They will inevitably side with the more lenient parent and perceive the other as being overdramatic and strict. It is imperative for both parents to sit together and discuss their views on drinking, working to find a compromise that they are both comfortable with if and when they are put in a situation where their child is either showing interest or has already engaged in the act. Children thrive on structure and stability - so if both parents are coming from the same place, there will be no gray areas.
2. Before your child leaves to attend a party, talk to them about what they foresee the evening to look like:
It will be easy for you to assume what is going to happen - but provide them the platform to be open and honest with you. Be careful not to sound accusatory when the question is asked. No matter what they say, KEEP ASKING QUESTIONS. Do not resort immediately to expressing your expectations of their behavior - by saying things like “There better not be drinking” or “You’ll be grounded if you drink”, you have now shut down the possibility for a genuine and productive conversation. By asking questions, you are helping guide them to make their own healthy choices. Questions like “if there is alcohol there, how do you plan on handling it?” “how will you get home if there is alcohol being served?”…allow them to work through their own plan of the evening. Teenagers are prone to respond with raw, impulsive emotion - its our goal as parents to assist them in pushing pause and anticipating the residual effects of their behavior.
3. Now explain your expectations
Once your child has divulged their vision of how the night will play out, both parents should do the same from their perspective. Reinforce to them what you know they are capable of - using good judgment and avoiding potentially harmful situations.
4. Help them to establish a plan of action
Ensuring that your child knows they can call you at any moment can truly avoid trauma from occurring. Teenagers are so prone to hiding crises from their parents out of fear of being punished, that they put themselves and others in extremely dangerous situations. Discuss it all - reinforce that at any point in the evening, they can call or text you to come and get them - no questions asked.
Moments like these are essential to both your relationship with your child and their own development. They are developing and naturally have the desire to become more autonomous and independent. By broaching this situation in such a way, you are establishing a deeper, more honest connection while also encouraging a more mature thought process from your child.