I used to think of myself as a cool mom. My house has always been where my kids and their friends gather, so it was easy to think that had something to do with me, my tattoos, and my Nirvana T-shirts. But all of that changed when my kids hit their teen years, and I discovered that being "cool" came at far too high a cost.
I've always had a strict "no drugs or alcohol" policy with my kids. Sure, I'll pick them up if they ever get hammered at a party, no questions asked, but there will still be consequences the next day. I figured all of us parents were united in a battle against keggers and spiked punch at prom. It never occurred to me that sticking to my guns about alcohol would make me the odd one out.
My twin teenagers were freshmen in high school when I first discovered one of them was drinking at a friend's house (his twin ratted him out immediately). I didn't think twice before I texted him and told him he had five minutes to get home. When he didn't respond, I drove straight to the friend's house, and texted him that he had 30 seconds to get in the car before I called the police and reported him for underage drinking. Needless to say, he got in the car.
Maybe that sounds like an overreaction, but I don't play around with alcohol. Teen brains are still developing and alcohol doesn't do their brains any favors. Plus, I was married to an alcoholic and I've seen the damage alcohol can do. I want my kids to grow up developing healthy coping mechanisms, not learning to drown their sorrows in a bottle when life gets too hard.
I assumed my son's friend had stolen the alcohol from one of his parents, but I was shocked when I learned that his mom and dad actually let him drink at home. Because pot is legal in Seattle, where we live, they even provide him with pot (technically, it's only legal for adults but that doesn't seem to stop anyone). Now, I don't care what other parents do with their kids, but this kid's parents were home and let him give my son booze! Needless to say, I was not happy. I banned my son from going to his house, and gave him a warning: His friend was still welcome to come over, but if he brought alcohol into my house, he'd never be invited back.
As unsettling as that experience was, I thought it was an isolated incident. I was still convinced that most parents were on my side. When another one of my son's friends started drinking vanilla extract to try to get drunk, I told his mom. So you can imagine my shock by the time senior year rolled around and his mom was buying him alcohol and pot. "Everyone else's parents give them alcohol," my teens told me.
I'm sure most of these parents have good intentions. Many seem to think it's safer to supply kids with alcohol to drink at home than it is to risk them experimenting somewhere else. But that simply isn't the case. Studies have found that supplying teens with booze leads to higher rates of teen drinking. Plus, the earlier you begin drinking, the more likely you are to develop alcohol-related problems down the line. And that whole thing about how Europeans let their kids drink and it all turns out just fine? Yeah, that's a myth, too.
My teens aren't angels. They don't drink because they have no real opportunity to do so, and I monitor their activities and friends to limit their access to risky behavior. If they're really determined to drink as they get older, I'm sure they will, but for now, their behavior is a far cry from the regular drunk-fests many of their peers are engaging in. Plus, perhaps all of those talks about alcohol rubbed off on them: As they've gotten older, they've started coming to me with concerns about their friends' behavior.
I don't kid myself that they won't experiment in college. But I still think these years of talking about the risks of alcohol and drug use will influence them down the line. I've always been frank with them about my own experiences, and they know why I no longer drink at all. While they may make different decisions, at least they'll be made in adulthood — with the benefit of years of parental input.
As parents, we don't do our kids any favors when we take the path of least resistance. They need to know the downsides of alcohol and drugs, and they need to know we care enough to enforce our rules. Teens can smell hypocrisy from a mile away, so if you're preaching abstinence around alcohol, you better be practicing it yourself. And in case you need another reason to put down that wine bottle, kids who grow up watching their parents drink heavily are more likely to be heavy drinkers, too.
My son tells me that his friends were shocked that I came down on him so hard after his foray into drinking his freshman year. "They thought you were the cool mom," he said. "Well, they thought wrong," I said. "If being cool means giving my teenagers booze, count me out."