Sunday, 22 March 2015

Giving a UDL can to a 15 year-old during the week to make sure they can 'handle it' at a party on the weekend ...


Nobody can tell a parent of an adolescent what to do with their child. Every mum and every dad is going to have to make their own decisions about how to raise their teen. Parenting is the world's most difficult job (and I'm told by so many, also the most rewarding!) and it certainly doesn't come with a rule book. That said, when I'm asked about my views on best-practice parenting around alcohol, I always say that the most important thing parents should do is follow their heart (sounds corny I know, but are you basing your decision on your own values and not simply doing what your best friend or sister-in-law is doing?) and, at the same time, look at what the most up-to-date evidence says is most appropriate and will assist in ensuring your child is happy and healthy. Each and every family is going to come up with different rules and boundaries in this area, but as long as you can be sure that you are able to live with the consequences of whatever you decide, then that is the best you can do ... 

As much as I try not to pass judgment on parents and the incredibly difficult job they have, hardly a week goes by when I don't hear a story about a parent's decision in this area where I'm not left completely floored, really struggling to work out the process behind what I have heard. These stories certainly give me lots to write about and I'm certainly never without content for my blog entries as some of you would have noticed! This week I received a message from Samantha Menezes (who many people would recognize as the mother from Perth who has worked tirelessly over the past two years to get 'secondary supply' laws introduced in Western Australia) who had recently heard a story that had shocked her and she wanted to hear other peoples' views on the topic. Here is her message:

What would you say to your good friend if they told you this about their daughter who is just 15 years of age. The girl is going to her first gathering on Saturday night. The mother (your friend) has agreed she can take 1 UDL. However, to make sure her daughter handles it okay she gave her one to drink last night - a school night!
A UDL is between 1.2 and 2.1 standard drinks. The Australian Guidelines say no more than 2 drinks a day for healthy adults and that no alcohol is the safest option for under 18.
So is it okay to consent (and supply alcohol) to your daughter who is 15, considering all the evidence about brain damage and alcohol-related harms? And what about giving her a drink to try out beforehand? What happened to no alcohol at all? Why can't we be brave as parents and stand our ground?

What I usually do with these stories is to first try to work out why the decision could possibly have been made ... with this one the whole thing is beyond me! Here are just some of the questions I would ask that mother in an attempt to gain some understanding of her thought processes ...
  • why would you make a decision to let your 15 year-old drink alcohol at her first gathering?
  • did you feel pressured or bullied into making this decision?
  • do you feel completely comfortable with your 15 year-old daughter drinking alcohol in any environment? Why, why not?
  • do you believe that agreeing to let her take and drink a UDL can to a party will somehow protect her? If so, how will it protect her and what do you base that assumption on?
  • do you believe that everyone else is doing it (parents are giving their children alcohol and teens are drinking it)? If so, once again, what do you base that belief on?
  • what do you know about the party your daughter is going to? Where did you get your information from and is it completely reliable?
I could go on and on and up to now I've only been asking questions about the initial decision to allow her daughter to drink at the upcoming party - I haven't even started about why anyone in their right mind would think it would be helpful to give her a can during the week to make sure she could handle it!

As I have already said, no-one can tell a parent what to do with their own child (least of all me - I don't have kids!). This mum hopefully has her reasons for what she is doing and unless she simply doesn't care (which I'm sure isn't the case) I'm sure she has made the decisions she's made believing that she's doing what is best for her daughter. But is she in fact being pressured or bullied by her 15 year-old and being told that she's "the only one that isn't providing alcohol"? Has she taken the time to speak to other parents and ask their views and actually checked whether that is the case? Has she called the parents putting on the gathering and found out what their plans are for the night? Has she truly followed her heart - does it feel right? Finally, has this mother considered the evidence that the best thing a parent can do in this area is to delay, delay, delay, i.e., try to prevent a teen from drinking alcohol for as long as possible?

If she has then she's done the best she can do - but I have to say in this instance, I just don't think that is the case. I just hope and pray that nothing goes wrong and she lives to regret the decision!

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