Saturday, 4 June 2016

"I'm honest about alcohol and parties with Mum and Dad - I don't need rules or punishments!": Why are some parents buying this line?

As I travel around the country at the moment I am busy collecting information from some of the young people attending my presentations. I'm focussing on Year 10s and 11s and asking some of them to fill out a short questionnaire. I don't want to know their name or the school they're from so it's completely anonymous but hopefully it will give me greater insight into a couple of areas that I am currently fascinated about in regards to teenagers and how they are being parented (or at least how they perceive they are being parented) in the area of alcohol and parties.

It's certainly not a rigorous piece of scientific research and I can't submit any of my 'findings' to a journal for publication. But what it does do is give me a very rough snapshot of what is happening across the country in this area. I really am in a very unique situation in that I get to speak to 10s of thousands of young people every year across all three systems - public, independent and Catholic. Having access to these students is a privilege and once in a while, if the schools allow me, I take the opportunity to collect some information that can hopefully make my presentations more useful. It's important to remember that all the information provided is 'self-report' and there is no way of knowing what they are telling me about what is happening in their lives in this area is the truth, but in my experience I believe most teens are fairly honest when they complete the survey.

I'm going to wait until I have around 500 completed surveys before I feed back the full results (almost halfway there!) but while entering the data this week one questionnaire caught my eye and I just had to share it!

Students are asked questions around first drinking experience (if they have actually consumed alcohol as yet), the last drink they consumed, curfews and 'punishments' (or consequences). I am particularly interested in the punishment issue as I am meeting more and more parents who appear to be having a real problem with applying consequences when their teen breaks rules (if they even have any rules, with a growing number of parents challenging me when I suggest that a teen needs to have rules and boundaries in this area, responding with 'I trust my child!'). In the survey I ask students to suggest an "appropriate punishment" for breaking a rule their parent has set and then a rule around parties and alcohol. I then ask them to tell me the "worst punishment" they have ever received and what they did to get it ...

In response to what was the "worst punishment" ever received, one Year 11 girl (aged 16 - for some reason she put her age on the questionnaire) stated the following:

"I have never been punished as I make sensible decisions. I'm also honest with my parents so punishment isn't necessary"

When asked what an "appropriate punishment" would be she wrote the following:

"Possibly a stern talking to to ensure that I had learnt my lesson. Personally I think that's too extreme and can lead to less trust"

When it came to the issue of alcohol and parties and punishments she was very clear about her views on the topic:

"I do not receive punishments for this as I am open and truthful about this with them"

When you look at all that, most people would think that the respondent was a strong and confident young woman who has parents who trust her and that that trust is, at least in part, justified. You would imagine that she is honest with them about what she does and is reasonably responsible (whatever 'reasonably responsible' means for a 16 year-old girl). It is when you go back in the questionnaire and look at her answer to what was the last drink you had that you realize that this young lady has her parents well and truly hoodwinked for her last drink was 'vodka and absinthe'!

Vodka and absinthe! Please note the highlighting in bold ... I didn't even know this was a drink, let alone that teens were consuming it! We're talking about something that would really knock your socks off and no-one (I repeat no-one) would ever drink this unless their aim was to get absolutely smashed. I very much doubt that she is telling her parents that this is what she is doing (and if she is and they're not pulling the reins in to some extent then they should be ashamed of themselves) and even though she is adamant that she is making "sensible decisions", this is an example of a young woman who obviously has her parents wrapped around her little finger and is putting herself at great risk. She is also one of the many students who report that they do not have a curfew, writing and then underlining next to the question "Curfews lead to less trust"!

I've said it before and I'll say it again - you can't trust an adolescent! Every one of us lied during our adolescence to get what we wanted, your son or daughter is going to do the same thing at some point or another. But it is important to remember that even though you can't trust them, you've got to trust your teen at some point or another. You can't lock them in a room and never let them out! Without a doubt, there's going to be a time when they let you down and break that trust and you're going to feel devastated. They need to break rules and push boundaries and suffer the consequences for doing that - that's what the teenage years are all about and that's what makes them into well-rounded adults who are able to cope with the world. But this idea that your child is going to be 'honest and open' about what they do and somehow that makes it safer is just ridiculous. Yes, they may tell you that they're going to drink at the party they are attending but are they going to tell you how they are going to drink (e.g., drinking games, shots, skolling), what and where they're going to drink and who else is going to be there? Just knowing they're drinking is certainly not protective no matter how much you may want to believe it is ...

Can you stop your teen from drinking alcohol if that's what they really want to do? Absolutely not! But should you just roll over and accept that they are going to drink and kid yourself that they're being 'honest' about it so everything is going to be ok? Once again, absolutely not!

1 comment:

  1. Here in lies the issue of entitlement. This young lady is of the opinion that trust is what she is owed and any parental action that threatens that right gives her reason to have broken trust in them because of their actions, not hers. Good lord Paul, do you feel your work is getting harder? LOL

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