What to Do When You Discover Your Teen Is Drinking
How would you end that sentence? “…lock them in their room forever?” “…grab them by their jacket collar and shake some sense into them?” “…take a sledgehammer to their smartphone/computer/video game system?” “…just scream ‘Why?’ at them over and over again?”
Don’t Lose Your Head
It’s understandable to feel highly emotional in these situations. After all, your once-innocent little baby has now gone against your wishes and gotten drunk. But your best course of action is to stop, take a breath, and remain calm. (Think about it: when has yelling at a drunk person ever been productive?)
Instead, your main priority should be making sure they are okay, cleaning them up, hydrating them and caring for their immediate needs, and putting them to bed. You can talk to them a little bit, but save the weightier conversation for when you have calmed down (and they’re possibly hungover and more receptive to your words).
Time For The Talk
When the time does come for discussion, you should certainly express your disappointment in their actions. But it’s essential to find out exactly what happened by asking open-ended questions.
Were they at a crowded party or alone with a friend? Did they experience peer pressure? What specific reason do they have for accepting the alcohol? How did drinking make them feel? Make it clear that this is one of those conversations where silence or one-word answers are unacceptable.
Next comes the dreaded “lecture.” Certainly, your teen is aware of some of the risks surrounding alcohol consumption, but they probably don’t recognize all of them. So, ensure that they know about what alcohol does to the body and brain, how it exacerbates feelings of unhappiness because it is a depressant, and what can happen if they get caught drinking by police.
Also make them aware of the penalties their school may impose for consuming alcohol, even if it is off campus (like suspension from extracurricular activities, for instance). Point out that alcohol use at a young age is a predictor of unwanted pregnancy, sexually transmitted diseases, and illegal drug use. Perhaps most importantly, drinking affects the way the teen is perceived by adults – which may have a negative impact on their relationships with teachers, administrators, coaches, and parents of their friends.
Be a Good Parent
Eventually, the conversation enters the “disciplinary” phase. If you have previously set clear rules concerning alcohol use which the teen has violated, don’t hesitate to impose the agreed-upon punishment, which may involve a loss of smartphone, computer, video game or other privileges and/or stricter limits regarding curfews, parties and socializing with friends.
It’s equally important to spell out or reiterate your expectations for them going forward. Tell them that it’s their responsibility to make better choices to avoid another incident in the future, whether that means disassociating themselves from certain people or staying away from specific social gatherings. Also, make clear that you plan to “follow up” by making sure your wishes are being obeyed and that they must work to earn back your trust.
If you do think that your teen is drinking regularly and needs help, then take them to a physician or drug treatment center as soon as possible so they can be assessed further. Any problems with alcohol should be addressed during adolescence while the teen has a stronger support system and the consequences are usually less severe than in adulthood (i.e. only juvenile criminal charges are filed, etc.).
Finally, let your teen know that although you may be displeased with his or her behavior, you still love him or her very much and will always be there to help – even if it means coming to pick him or her up at two in the morning from a party where alcohol is present. Studies show that teenagers take their cues from their parents regarding alcohol use; if you remain steadfast in your anti-drinking stance, chances are your teen will follow suit and refrain from engaging in unhealthy drinking habits as adults.
Contact us for additional tips on how to handling a teen’s drinking.