Some Parents Don’t Always Know Best


beer toast[1]To: Marybeth

From: Not Crazy About Carpools

This question might be filed under, “What are these people thinking?” My high school freshman got a ride home from a recent sporting event from a teammate’s parent. The conversation in the car turned to a high school party that took place a couple of weeks ago where teens were widely known to have been drinking and smoking weed. Rather than express any dismay or concern about this, the parent laughed, joked and shared stories of his escapades in high school, and essentially said partying was a fun, normal part of growing up. We can’t avoid sharing rides with this family. How should our son respond if this sort of conversation comes up again?

To: Not Crazy About Idiotic Parents (Because really.)

From: Mb

A very wise mother once warned me, “The enemies of your child are the parents of his friends.” At the time I thought, ‘Sheesh, that’s harsh.’ But my fourth child is now a teenager, so I know exactly what that mom meant.

There was a time when parents were generally on the same page. We Baby Boomers could count on the moms and dads of our friends to pretty much echo the values and opinions of our parents, especially when it came to their expectations about appropriate behavior for high schoolers.

But parents have changed. Many want to be perceived as the “cool parents” who are close to their teenagers. They think they’ll achieve this closeness by revealing their past antics as a teen — or worse, by facilitating risky behavior for their children.

Versions of “buddy parents” can range from benignly embarrassing to outright dangerous. We’ve all seen the women who dress like their daughters (though the 50-something version is not a good look), or the dads who pull up to the high school parking lot blasting Journey songs through open windows. These folks are cringe-worthy, to be sure.

The parents we need to watch out for are the ones whose lack of judgment becomes an opportunity for our teenagers to engage in high-risk and illegal behaviors. Astonishingly, despite all the known perils and warnings from school administrators, public safety and law enforcement officers, and parent groups, there are parents who believe it’s safer to provide alcohol for their teenagers as long as they collect everyone’s car keys than it is to pressure kids not to drink, based on the theory, “They’re going to do it anyway.”

In fact, that theory is not true. Parental advice about teen drinking has a significant impact on teens’ decision to abstain during high school, and a 2010 study showed that young adults whose parents had the strictest rules against teen drinking exhibited less binge drinking in college.

To be sure, a parent who tells a car full of teens that partying is a normal and expected part of growing up is not helping your cause. It’s also not universally true. While statistics show a majority of teens will have experimented with alcohol by age 18, at least 30 percent don’t. So it’s “everyone,” but it’s not everyone.

That dad did, however, offer you a teachable moment. Be sure to have a conversation with your son in which you state your feelings — bluntly — about the inappropriate nature of that parent’s comments. I’d say something like, “Being an adult doesn’t necessarily mean having good judgment. I don’t think that a parent should joke about partying as a teenager and I certainly don’t think drinking or smoking pot is an expected part of growing up. I appreciate the shared transportation, but just know that we absolutely don’t share those opinions.”

Of course, thanks to that “buddy parent,” you now know whose house party your son should avoid for the rest of high school.


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  • When I turned 18 I graduated high school and went to visit my grandparents. They took me on a fishing trip to Manitoba. The drinking age in Manitoba at the time was 18 so my grandparents took the opportunity to teach me a lesson, or so they thought. They let me drink beer (some with other alcohol mixed in) until I became sick. They thought this would “teach me a lesson” about drinking for when I went to college later that summer.

    Well, it backfired. Completely. The message I heard was not, “Drinking makes you sick,” but “Grandma and Grandpa think it’s okay for me to drink.” So I went on a number of binges my freshman year and got even sicker each time. I didn’t seem to be able to mentally attach the consequence of being sick to the act of drinking. It was years before I developed a healthy attitude toward alcohol and I count myself lucky that I never became an alcoholic.

    The irony is, that if my Grandfather had said, “Wait till you’re 21, and then be careful” I would have been strongly motivated to do so.

  • Michele Marie

    In many European countries and in South America, kids are allowed to drink with the family. One small glass of wine with a meal/dinner…then off to other things.
    Drinking doesn’t need to become an “I’m being naughty, isn’t this fun..” event.
    If they are only drinking with friends, it can become a drinking festival… Whereas if they learn to have a glass with a meal, now and then, it doesn’t become such a big deal…
    I’ve heard both sides. But if the child has to wait till they’re 21, they’ve never learned to drink responsibly. It may then become an all or nothing event then. As in, “Wooo Hoo! I finally get to drink! How much can I chug!” There is no elegance or dignity to such an approach.

  • PG

    It sounds like the son has his head on straight since he told his mom about the conversation. I agree that providing alcohol (and even worse, drugs) for a teen party is insane. Allowing/encouraging binge drinking or drug abuse at any age is reprehensible. If it is not possible to limit contact as the original post suggests) perhaps this is an opportunity to evangelize to the family.

    I don’t have a problem with parents allowing their kids (*only* their own kids) to drink alcohol in moderation at home. My parents did that with my sisters and me and it worked well for us.

  • This is a teachable moment indeed. As parents move from talking to little guys about “Who made you?” and “Why did God make you?” to asking older ones “What does God have planned for you?” and “What kind of man are you going to be?” this might be Exhibit A for why good habits and a well-formed conscience are going to be so important for them. Teach it, Mom, teach it!