Sunday, September 21, 2008

Teen Drinking, Sex, Curfews and Partying. (What we do ...)

On The Flipside Guest Blogger: Carol from Northwest Ladybug

Carol wrote this post last year and agreed to repost it here On The Flipside. This post asks several serious questions about teen issues and Carol offers the answers she came up with to the specific situations. Please read this post and offer your opinion/answer in the comments. Thanks, Carol!


Teen Drinking, Sex, Curfews and Partying (What we do ...)

A few days ago, I posted 10 hypothetical questions to my faithful readers, asking what you would do in particular situations with teens regarding tough issues, like drinking, sex, parties and curfews. I was waaaay impressed with some of the thoughtful answers I received. Thanks!

Northwest Ladybug's adult kids share a toast -- with their parents' permission -- before Thanksgiving dinner, 2007.

("very occasionally, on holidays spent at home with the family, we're fine with a celebratory beer or glass of wine")

As promised, here is what we did. As I often tell my kids, I have no idea whether we're doing this parenting thing correctly, or even well at all. But I have to believe that the fact that our kids are honest with us, choose to spend time with us, and care what we think is a good indicator. My biggest hope is that they make it to 25 without any major incidents -- which is why we basically only have Two Big Rules. But, as you can tell, there are a whole lot more than two situations that need our attention and our attempts at good parenting... whatever THAT is!

1.) Your boy/girl twin 17 1/2 year olds ask if they can have a few friends over for hot-tubbing, movie watching and a marshmallow roast at your fire pit. "And drinking?" you ask. "Any plans for drinking?" They know that you know that teens (even those who probably aced their SATs that morning) drink. They know that you don't like it. "Likely," they answer. But it's not a drinking party. It's a get together with maybe some drinking." We can either get together here or at someone else's house. You, the parents, are home. How do you answer your kids' question?

We allowed a total of about 10 friends -- although my guess is that at one point there were more like 15 or 20. The group spent a good deal of time around the bonfire outside. We didn't "check on them," except to monitor the noise level out of consideration of our neighbors. We gave permission for friends to spend the night as long as their parents were aware of where they were. I asked that all indications of any get-together (trash, food, etc.) be cleaned up by morning, and it was.

2.) Your 19-year-old son has been going out with someone for over a year. You adore her. He loves her. You know they're having sex, but you haven't had any in-depth conversations with him/them about it. One morning, when you're up early, you see them at the door. She's quietly leaving. Do you say something? What do you say? To whom?

This whole situation just felt silly at that point and that morning I just told them that I was making breakfast and to stick around and join me -- which they did. From then on, they neither snuck nor flaunted. Her family lives just a few blocks from us, her parents are our friends, and all six of us have discussed the issue and agreed that it's "no big deal" if they're sleeping together, as they are obviously committed and in love and being smart regarding birth control. Because she bought a queen-size bed, though, they're hardly ever here anymore! They're now 20, have been together for over three years, both go to school full-time and work close to full-time and the last thing they need is to "have to" get an apartment that they can't afford in order to be together. This way, they can concentrate on school and know that they have a roof -- no, two -- over their heads and parents who put more emphasis on their long-term goals and schooling than on whether or not they're sleeping together. It just felt like the most honest way to go about it.

3.) Your 22-year-old invites her younger siblings, all over 17 but under 21, to a "formal cocktail party" at her house. How do you handle the situation?

We allowed them to go, asked our oldest daughter to "keep an eye on them," and insisted that they spend the night.

4.) Your 17-year-old daughter is a peer health educator with Planned Parenthood. (Teens go to local schools' health classes and educate their peers about many teen health issues, including but in no way limited to, sexuality issues.) In her once-a-week meetings at PP, she has access to condoms and can take as many as she wants. Her Mormon girlfriend, who has been having sex for over a year already, asks her for condoms, which she willingly provides. YOU get a call from the girl's irate mother, an acquaintance of yours, who found a condom in her daughter's car and demanded to know where it came from. How do you handle the call?

I did what most of you suggested: reminded the mom that her daughter was already choosing to have sex and that my daughter was simply contributing to her safety by providing a condom. The mom never spoke to me again; the girls are still dear friends. E's friend is now married, with a baby.

5.) Your 16-year-old daughter confides to you that she and her boyfriend of almost a year have decided to have sex. She asks you not to tell her father. How do you respond?

I told her that I've never had a secret from her dad and didn't want to start now so I suggested that SHE tell him. She did. It was a disaster -- and it took their relationship years to recover from it and negatively affected our marriage (since I believe that my daughter had the more mature approach and attitude about it all). It was a huge mistake to go about it that way and I should have agreed to keep the secret until she was ready to tell him herself. I still regret the way I handled this.

6.) Your 16-year-old's curfew is midnight. She has never missed it. She calls at 10:00 PM, asking if she can spend the night at her girlfriend's house. How do you respond? What if she calls from a guy's house and says that "a bunch of people are spending the night... his parents are home." How do you respond in that case? What if parents aren't home? (How do you know?)

This one is tough. And I deal with it differently now that they're almost 18 than I did a year or two ago. I do ask my kids to call early in the evening -- preferably before 10:00 -- if they're want to request to spend the night somewhere. This tells me that they're planning ahead and "pacing" any drinking, not guzzling and then dealing with things later. (I believe that teens need to "learn to drink" and unfortunately we don't set things up to allow that. Instead, they tend to quickly guzzle to excess.) My biggest concern is that they stay away from any combination of vehicles and alcohol. A year or two ago, I would have (and did) call the home of my kid's friend, ask to talk to parents, etc. But now, I must admit that this is one of those situations in which I count on my kids to be honest, mature and to use good judgement.

7.) You and your husband are having mojitos (cosmos, a beer, a glass of wine... whatever). Your 17 and 20-year-olds ask if you'll make them one. How do you respond? How do you respond if they're with friends?

This one is easy. We will provide them one drink as long as they promise to stay home. We do not supply drinks to their friends. But we do treat our German exchange students as our own kids, partly because we know their traditions in Germany are consistent with our attitudes at home.

8.) Your 15-year-old asks both parents if they ever smoked weed. You both have. How do you respond? (Assuming you answer honestly:) He asks if you liked it. One did, one didn't. How do you respond? He asks if you currently smoke. Neither parents does, but one parent misses it and one doesn't. How do you respond? He then asks which you think is worse for teens -- weed or alcohol. How do you respond?

I hate the stuff -- always have. Tom has smoked, liked it, but no longer smokes at all. We are both honest with our kids about our attitudes and about our past. We remind them that both drinking and weed are illegal for teens, but tell them that alcohol probably causes greater problems in society as a whole because of it's addictive qualities and the dangers of drinking and driving.

9.) Your 15-year-old confides that her 14-year-old cousin, whose parents forbid her to drink, has been drunk numerous times. Do you call the cousin's parent -- your sibling -- and tell them?

10.) Your 16-year-old confides that her 15-year-old cousin, has been having sex. Your child isn't sure if the sex was protected or not. Do you call the cousin's parent -- your sibling -- and tell them?

These two are hypothetical and I'm GLAD they haven't happened! I think that I'd talk with my niece or nephew and encourage him/her to tell parents. But I wouldn't tell them. Nor would I put my child in a situation that risks trust -- cousin-to-cousin or parent-to-child.

One thing I do know now that I've been raising teens: it is anything but easy, there is no one right or wrong way to raise kids (especially teens!), and honest and communication are BY FAR the most important things to preserve in that relationship. If you've lost those, I believe that you're well on your way to losing your connection with your kids. I'd rather know what my teens are doing and deal with it the best I can than not have any clue to what their lives are really like. And, more importantly, I want my kids to be SAFE, and a head-in-the-sand attitude could put them at greater risk. I encourage them to be open and honest, let them know when I agree and disagree with them (boy, do I!), and let go of my need to be right. That one's hard. But so far, at least, they're great kids ("kids"?!) who share their lives with us openly and honestly, so I have to believe that we're doing something right.

Originally posted by Carol at Northwest Ladybug at 10:50 AM 5/8/07

Please offer your honest opinions/answers to these important and thought-provoking issues. And, please be careful to follow the comment rules and be nice to Carol, to me and to other commenters.


Jacey said...

Wow. Those are some intense questions.
As far as drinking goes, I think my rules would follow what my parents set for me:
* No going to drinking partys until you've finished high school (the drinking age here is 18 anyway, and I turned 18 half way through my final year).
* If you're at home with family, or at a family event you can have one drink if you're 15 and over, or two if you're 17 and over. If you're 18 or over, it's your right to make your own decisions, but you better damn well make sensible ones.
* If you have friends over, no alcohol at all, until you're past the legal drinking age - and so are all your friends. And if it's at someone elses house, you raen't going unless you're legal anyway.
* My parents always offered my sister and I a glass of wine at occasional dinners, or if people were over, once we hit about 17. I'd probably do the same. But nothing other than wine or beer. Certainly nothing with spirits in it, until they're legal.

As far as sex goes.. I'm not sure. It was never an issue for me living with my parents. I made the decision to wait until I was 18, and I'd been going out with my boyfriend for 2 years. (The legal age here is 16, but I didn't feel like I was ready). I was glad I'd waited, because a lot of my friends started having sex at a young age, and it didn't do them any good.... some of them, it probably didn't do them any harm either.... but still, at 18 I think you're a little more mature, and more able to handle consequences if there are any.
* I always went to my boyfriends. I never had him stay over. My sister had ber bf over a lot... but I never felt comfortable with it. i'm not sure what rules I'd set for my kids, other than no one's staying in that capacity until you've finished school. If you're still at home then, well we'll talk.


Good N Crazy said...

Whoa. First. Glad I don't have teens...yet. I have a few years to think about all of this and sort it out first?

I feel much differently than Carole about pretty much all of these...but I really need to hear it from the perspective of one who's been through it??

I learned nothing from my parents about sex drugs and rock n roll.

And at the very least I want to be the one mine come to when they have questions.

Very interesting...and time for me to start thinking about these topics now...

Brenda said...

Each family has to raise their children in the best way they know how and hope for the best. I don't think there is a right way or wrong way to handle any of these situations, it's all a crap shoot.
But I do tend to lean towards the legal side in each of the situations.

Helen E.M. Wright said...

I enjoyed your questions as well as answers. For most situations I agree. The only answer that I think I truly do not agree with is the allowing their friends to drink at your house. If their parents were there and allowing it, another story.

You're two big rules are exactly the ones that we want to have for our child(ren).

This hiding your head in the sand and pretending like nothing is going on is just insane!

Do I like the idea of my child(ren) having sex? NO, but I know it's inevitable and I would prefer that they are protected! Totally plan on always having a box of condoms in the medicine cabinet!
Do I like the idea that my child(ren) would be out with a bunch of people getting drunk? NO, but we plan on them being comfortable enough to call us if there is a situation.

What it comes down too is (as you said) trust and openness.

In my experience those who come from a family where something like drinking and sex is out in the open are less likely to become binge drinkers and/or pregnant!

I'm not even going to touch the whole 'you're mature enough to fight for your country and vote but not have a drink'...

Courtney said...

I am so glad I don't have teens yet. It is something I definitely think about, but don't yet have to deal with. The only thing I disagree with is the fact that weed impairs your driving just as much as alcohol so I don't think one is "better" for you than the other. I say take a cab regardless of which one you've been using just to be safe.

dani said...

we stick with... "if it's against the law, it's against our law (re: drinking, smoking, curfew, etc...). as far as sex goes... we don't condone it; but if that's the choice, then come to us to get prepared.
so far, we have had no issues. we have one daughter who is almost 16 and dates. both have a very planned out future; and both know that "screw-ups" are a definite means to not achieving their goals, respectively.

Anonymous said...

Wow. This is more than I had really spent much time thinking about yet.
I hope I have given my kids a strong base of "no driving after drinking" by modeling this behavior and discussing it.
Sex has not been an issue yet (kids not yet dating). My dh & I do bring up comments about sex at the dinner table, so the older boys know it is something we are very willing to discuss. Dating will bring an entirely new focus!

Thank you for making me think this morning.

Adrian said...

Yikes, these are some very important issues and since I have a 26 year old and a 19 year old, I guess I'm qualified to discuss them. However, my boys never showed much of an interest in smoking, drinking or drugs, so we've never had a problem with them, but with all the alcoholism we have in our family, I hold a pretty tough line on either one of them.

Sex, I'm a little more relaxed on. My middle son and his girlfriend became active last year and they came to the parents first and got their birth control plans all set up, which I felt was very mature of them. It's a little awkward though, especially with his 10 year old brother in the next room. I don't condone it in my house, but I know it happens from time to time and I kind of turn a blind eye to it.

My older son moved in with his girlfriend when he was about 20 and she was pregnant with their first child when they got married, which I wasn't too thrilled about, especially since she is legally blind and has 2 other children from a previous boyfriend. But they've been together for 6 years, so I guess it was the right decision and they seem to be very happy and are expecting #4 next month.

I think friends are a huge influence, so I try to steer them towards the "good" kids and I'm always up for them hanging out at our house. Even though they eat us out of house and home, at least I know they're in a safe environment and there will be no liquor or drugs. I think being in Utah give us kind of a leg up because the Mormon influence is very strong here. That can be a good thing when it comes to issues like these. It's not that we don't have the same problems, but it's much less acceptable here.

Andrea said...

I can't really say what I would do in any of those situations, since my kids are only 3 and 5. But I can say that I am terrified to raise teenagers!

Basically, we just need to do the best that we can -- and at some point, we need to trust that we have done a good job in raising them.

Rosemary Bogdan said...

Well, I suspect I will be in the minority on this one. I do not let my minor children drink in our house-- or anyone else's minor children. I do not believe that all teens drink. If there were ever evidence of my minor children or their friends drinking there would be huge consequences. If a minor child had sex in my house that child would not be given any privileges (like driving my car) that enabled that child to see that "friend." That friend would not be allowed in my house again. In fact, in general freedoms would be greatly curtailed because that child would have demonstrated, in my opinion, an inclination to irresponsibility. I do not believe that pregnancy and disease are the only things to worry about in regards to premarital sex. I think this would represent a compromise in my child's personal dignity and we would go back to square one in talking about the nature of human sexuality.

Before anybody jumps all over me saying that children will rebel from such strict standards and that I am being naive, let me say that I have three adult children whose lives demonstrate otherwise.

bermudabluez said...

Yes, all of those are intense questions. I would have to say that...having successfully raised one teenage girl, that I agree with all of the examples you gave, with the exception of the underage drinking. I am very thankful that my daughter is not a drinker. Yes, she experimented just like everyone else...or most everyone else, but she has made up her own mind, that she doesn't particularly like it. And I will be forever grateful that her boyfriend of six years feels the same way. I am blessed in that regard. It is very difficult raising a teenager in today's world!! Excellent Post.