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Surviving the Teen Drinking Years

To Drink or Not to Drink, Is that the Question?

I am a mother who survived the teen years of experimentation and confrontation. Often they were the same issues I struggled with many years ago. How do we deal with teenagers who make choices we may not agree with? My experiences taught me there is no right or wrong way to do anything. There are unique circumstances and individual personalities asking for our attention and guidance.

As my children entered the teen years, I was reminded about my own high school experiences of long ago. I was a confusion of two personalities. One personality studied hard to receive an education that would serve me in the future; the other personality partied hard which served my teenage mentality. Sometimes I look back and wonder, “How did I survive?” My father was a strict Italian who believed in strict curfews. A minute past his time limit meant another evening within the confines of my room. Because of this rigid mentality, my friends and I often raced home at ungodly speeds to try and beat the curfew game, often without success. The little communication between the two of us was often harsh as he tried to force his will upon me. However, the force of my own will far outweighed his and our patterns of abuse continued.

In those days of old, the policemen ensured our safety by taking us back to our parents to be dealt with. I was harshly reprimanded and forced to feel ashamed of myself. Still it did not hinder me from experimenting as I tried to learn more and more about who I may one day become.

From my teenage experiences and no formal parenting guidelines, I practiced parenting with my own children. These were the techniques I chose from memories of my past.I chose to never force a curfew upon my children for fear they too would have to speed home to meet my demands. Instead, as a family we discussed each request, and somehow mutually agreed upon a time that served both our needs. I also asked that if they could not meet our agreed upon time, they would never speed home but instead call me and the time would be adjusted. It saved me many nights of fear and worry and managed to keep them safe.

Having partied myself, I reasoned that at some point in their teenage years, they too might choose to experiment with alcohol. I could put the fear of God into them by insisting that I better never find out they were partiers. This scenario would keep me out of the loop and in the dark as to what was going on in their lives. My other thought was to tell them truthfully that I too was once a teenager, so I understood the choices that would confront them. I shared my experiences and when they asked me the tough questions, I chose not to lie. Instead I looked them in the face and told them the truth. My reasoning was simple. If I wanted to hear their truths, I first must share my own.

Knowing that my most important job was to ensure their safety, I made a deal with them. If at any point in their lives they chose to drink, I asked they call me no matter the time of night, and simply say they decided to stay put where they were. In that moment, I knew they were drinking, and they made a decision not to drive. I lived up to my deal and responded, “Ok, I’ll see you in the morning.” I could then sleep peacefully, knowing they made a choice to honor my request which ensured not only their safety but the safety of those with them.Once giving them an opportunity to be truthful with me and themselves, it was not often that I received that phone call, but I was always proud of them when I did. To me, they made the intelligent, mature choice to be safe.

Would a more intelligent and mature choice be to not drink at all? Can our teenage children avoid all the vices we have created in our world? Maybe, but I would have to assume for my children to be perfect I would have to be perfect myself; and truthfully, that is not the case. So if I cannot be perfect, how can I pass judgment on a younger individual, who has neither my experiences nor my wisdom, to be perfect?

I am grateful every day that my children survived their teen years; I cannot say the same of some of their classmates. Each time a classmate was killed for drinking and driving or speeding home to meet a curfew, I prayed that my children learned these lessons well: drinking, driving and speeding had no place behind the wheel. I felt my choices to try and keep them safe were the right choices for my family.

Today, I am proud of the adults they have become. Often they fumbled through their high school years, making many mistakes along the way. It was my job to pick them up with the intent of guiding them in a new and better direction. From my own experiences I learned that I could not force my will upon them. What I could do was honestly share of myself, allowing them the opportunity to do the same. I chose not to judge, but accept them as the imperfect teenagers they were.

Each of us as parents have to choose what is best for our individual family. What feels good for me may not feel good for you. That’s because you did not have the same experiences I did as a teenager. And that’s okay. What’s important is realizing that we each have to live with the choices we make for our children. As I look back, I would not have chosen any other way.

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