Let's take a moment, here the end of another school year, with Memorial Day just passing and an interminably long summer beyond that, to put ourselves in the minds of too many of our children. Are they thinking about how they can't wait to get started on that "character building" summer job? Are they looking forward to getting a head start on next year's studies? Maybe they're daydreaming about just how nice your yard is going to look each week once they've finished mowing its ever growing grass. What's that? You don't think that this is the stuff they're thinking about? Well you are probably correct.
Many of our kids are, in fact, feverishly waiting for the lax regulations, the out of town parents and the parties that arrive and depart with the heat of summer. I should know; I am a recovering teenager. The sad fact is that if many of our little darlings were half as determined and resourceful in regard to their studies as they appear to be at obtaining and consuming alcohol, our high schools would have to institute yet another lottery just to award their valedictorians. Now is a time to reflect on how you, as a parent, intend on dealing with your child's predictable preoccupation.
As a recovering adolescent, I've spotted what appear to be three schools of parental attitude toward teenaged drinking. The first might be summed up by the label, "Prison Warden". These parents provide food, water and the possibility for exercise but immediately resort to sharpening the barbs on the wire on the fence just beyond the moat when their children ask to be involved in any activity that has the slightest chance of exposing that child to alcohol. The P.W.'s children will likely one day thank them for their hypervigilance, but for now the PW needs to prepare for the fact that confinement of this nature can lead to the occasional riot.
The second philosophy is similar to that of the P.W. but less strident, and I call these parents "Detectives". The Detectives give their children far more freedom, but with a clear warning that they will use their finely honed deductive reasoning to detect even the most negligible evidence of forbidden activities and that consequences are sure to follow. On these occasions the Detective quickly adopts the grim attitude of the P.W. and maintains it until enough time has passed that this game may begin anew.
The third persona is that of the "Facilitator" (Parentus Permisivus). While once nearly extinct, the Facilitator has recently experienced a population explosion and now flourishes throughout most of North America. Facilitators believe either that drinking is a natural part of the teen experience or that it would be unfair to deny this to their children or that they simply lack the power to prevent its repeated incidence. Whatever their motivation- teenagers love the Facilitator. This has led to a great many territorial disputes between the latter and the two former as the Facilitator seems to blame the P.W. and the Detective (but especially the P.W.) for what they consider to have been a very uneventful childhood and have foresworn that this travesty not befall their own children. It is this attitude, however fun and appreciated, that more typically spells disaster.
Under-aged drinking isn't a bad idea simply because there is a law against it. The law exists because this behavior is inherently dangerous for a variety of reasons. The first is one we don't consider all that often. The human brain remains under construction until the early to mid-twenties. This is why our teenagers aggravate us so. They lack the ability to seriously plan for their future and assess the risk involved in their actions. Their developing personalities and value systems are heavily influenced by the absence of these abilities.
The teenage mind is, often times, much like a bustling city without a fully functioning government. If you believe this, then ask yourself, if you, as a parent are, by nature and necessity, the executive and judicial branch of your child's brain. Just how much damage do you think you are doing to your child by "passing laws" allowing or possibly encouraging, their city planner to booze it up on the job? I'm not even going to get into all the financial, social and mortal dangers teen drinkers are facing ( I'm writing a column, not a book) when they engage in this behavior. Nor am I warning you about our new "Social Host" law, although you might take a look at it if you get a chance. What I am pointing out is the danger, sometimes irreversible, of parental tolerance of this behavior. Many of your children have, in the past, and will again, drink alcohol. For many, it is a time-honored, integral aspect of social development. For them, it represents much of the sense of danger and mischief of growing up. But it must remain in the domain of the "mischievous"; it mustn't be condoned. To do so is tantamount to the formal abdication of our responsibilities as parents and guardians.
If you are aware, and nonplussed, that your 17-year-old has a favorite mixed drink or beer koozie, then you are probably the Facilitator. If your child doesn't know what a beer koozie is, you are probably the Prison Warden. Let's all do our best to become Detectives this summer!
Quinton is a staff therapist at Edmond Family Counseling and can be reached at 405-341-3554.