Search This Blog

Sunday, 29 November 2015

Parenting a teenager:"It's all about sacrifice!"

I'm constantly writing about the bizarre parenting, particularly around alcohol and partying, I see or hear about as I'm travelling across the country and I have been criticised for what some see as 'parent bashing'. I'm not a parent (as my wonderful sister-in-law has told me after hearing me present at an Information Evening a few years ago) and it's extremely easy for me to criticise what parents do or don't do in this area when I don't have to deal with the issue myself. That said, I always try to make it clear in anything I write (or say for that matter) that I believe parenting is the toughest job in the world - there is no 'rule book'.

Every family is different and within each family, every child is going to have their own personality and potentially their own issues. You'll be different as well. Raising a child, with all the fears and anxiety that comes with first-time parenthood (combined with all the reading you have likely done about how to do it properly), is likely to be very different the second time around. You know more and you have actual life experience. You are going to be a different parent, no matter what you try to do, and you are dealing with a completely different human being - what may have worked extremely well with your first may go down like a lead balloon with the next! So, as I said - there is no 'rule book' - you can only do the best you can at the time!

So instead of 'parent bashing' I thought I'd do the complete opposite in this post and talk about a wonderful father who shared with me what he believed was the key to parenting a teenager. He was a teacher who had agreed to drive me home after a Parent Night held at his school - it was quite a long trip and my visit to the school had obviously struck a nerve. He had a 15 year-old daughter who was just starting the whole teen party roller coaster and he just wanted to talk. When he dropped me off at my hotel I asked him if he'd mind sending me an email with his thoughts as I was in the process of writing a book and was looking for personal anecdotes that I could use. I received the email the next day but for some reason the piece never ended up in the final edit. Here is a slightly edited version that was included in an early draft of my book ...

"Thanks for yesterday and for the chat last night. When I got home after dropping you off I had a long talk with my wife and talked through all the issues you raised in your talk to parents, as well as the discussion we had in the car. As you asked, here are our thoughts on parenting a teenager (and I have to say that this is definitely a work in progress!)

My wife and I believe that when it comes to parenting a teenager, it's all about sacrifice. Our daughter is the most important thing in the world to us and we would give our lives to keep her safe. Although there were some challenges when she was younger, nothing compares to the issues we are facing now. She's a smart young woman but, as you said in your talk, she's certainly missing a piece of her brain at the moment! She's a typical 15 year-old who wants to fit in with her friends and go to parties and we seem to be constantly fighting with her about almost everything.

We believe that to get through this time we have to sacrifice two things, one of which is proving to be far more difficult than the other. The first (and without doubt the easiest) is sacrificing our social life to some extent and particularly drinking alcohol on the weekends. We have always made ourselves available for sporting commitments, music practice and other activities, but when our daughter first started getting asked to parties we quickly realized that we were going to have to be 'on-call' 24 hours a day, particularly over the weekends. We have always made it clear to her that if something went wrong and she ever needed us, we would be there ASAP, no questions asked. Hopefully the need will never arise but if she calls us, we need to be able to hop into the car and get to her. We couldn't do that if we had been drinking. We did think about the whole designated driver thing, one of us being able to have one or two glasses of wine one week and then the other the next but in the end, we're in this together and alcohol isn't that important in our lives anyway. We also plan to be the parents who take her to parties and also pick her up (at least for the next couple of years) - we don't want to rely on others to do our parenting.

That's the easy one, the second sacrifice is much more difficult - i.e., sacrificing our daughter liking us. I know you said that your kids aren't meant to like you, but let me assure you, it's the hardest thing in the world to have your daughter tell you that she hates you and you're ruining her life! But the reality is that although this is so hard, we know it is the most important thing we can do to keep her safe. Making those tough calls and saying "No" when we have to is never going to be easy but sometimes it has to be done and she's not going to like it. Yes, it's true that she forgets she hates us pretty quickly but for that time when she says she does, it eats your heart away and that's the ultimate sacrifice!"

I wish I still had the original email as I would love to make contact and see how things went - his daughter would now be in her mid 20s! I have never forgotten the conversation I had in the car with this amazing Dad and in my view I think he and his wife got it right - to some degree, effective parenting, particularly where teenagers are concerned, is all about sacrifice ... Some sacrifices shouldn't be too hard to make, while others will be so difficult but worth it when you consider the end result!


  1. This is so true Paul. Even with a toddler I need to be firm and consistent and weather the angry tantrums and even hitting when I make my darling 2 year old do the right thing! I still get lots of cuddles too!

  2. Having been to your talks with both our girls, I think you are a legend, Paul! In our drug & alcohol saturated culture, someone needs to stand up as a nondrinker and say "I still have fun!" For us, it's not relevant that you aren't a parent. You are one of the best parent helpers we have. I am a non-drinker - we have alcoholism in the family - and my husband drinks rarely. My children are quite bemused to go to visit other families and have someone say "You must have seen your mother tipsy!' It's not because I am better than anyone else, it's because I get a 3 week hangover and it generally wrecks my heath! We haven't had the problems other families seem to have and maybe because it's just not in the house, and you have taught them (and all their friends) about the impact on their brain development. Best wishes for you continuing work in 2016.


About Me

My photo
Paul Dillon has been working in the area of drug education for the past 25 years. Through his own business, Drug and Alcohol Research and Training Australia (DARTA) he has been contracted by many organisations to give regular updates on current drug trends. He has also worked with many school communities to ensure that they have access to good quality information and best practice drug education. His book 'Teenagers, Alcohol and Drugs' was released nationally in February 2009. With a broad knowledge of a range of content areas, Paul regularly appears in the media and is regarded as a key social commentator, with interviews on television programs such as Sunrise, TODAY and The Project.