DEALING WITH ADOLESCENT EXPERIMENTATION
Much of this information was adapted from Roger E. Vogler, Ph.D., and
Wayne R. Bartz,. Ph.D., "Teenagers and Alcohol: When Saying No
Isnít Enough." (1992) on Charles Press.
Many adolescents experiment with alcohol, and there are a variety of
reasons why they do so. The discovery that your son or daughter is
experimenting with alcohol can be devastating and evoke feelings ranging
from guilt ("Where did I go wrong?") to anger ("I need to
tighten the thumbscrews on this kid!"). When it comes to
experimenting, it is important to keep two things in mind: 1.
Experimentation does not usually lead to alcohol or drug abuse. 2. You
can use your influence as a parent to help prevent experimenting from
becoming a tenacious habit.
Your best bet at influencing your teenage son or daughter positively
is to offer open channels of communication. If he or she is drinking
alcohol or experimenting with drugs, they are probably aware that what
they are doing would displease you if you knew. If you are coming across
like a police lieutenant, you lessen your chances of finding out the
extent of their use, and therefore, you lessen your chances of helping
Most families have rules regarding their childrenís drug and
alcohol use. Sometimes clear consequences for drug or alcohol use have
been articulated. Other times they have not, but kids generally know
what will happen if mom and dad find out.
If you suspect that your son or daughter is experimenting, and you
feel that they are not being on the level, you may need to change your
approach. Indeed, it is important to uphold family values, standards and
rules, but it is also important to identify a problem--hopefully early
on. This may require "bending the rules" somewhat. You must
ask yourself how important knowing why your child is using alcohol or
drugs is to you. If you are like most parents it is vital.
Your likelihood of acquiring information decreases if you use the
* Cornering them aggressively with evidence (for example,
alcohol on breath, beer bottles in trash, rumors from friends)
* Threatening as a means of gathering information (e.g.
"If I find out you are drinking, you wonít be let out of my sight
until you graduate!")
* Lecturing. Recall your own experience in school. The
teachers who were the most boring were those who simply lectured. Kids
are experts at tuning out boring verbal "noise."
* Absurd Fear Implementation. There is nothing wrong with
helping your kids understand the negative consequences of drug or
alcohol abuse, but threats based on inaccurate information or
exaggerated information (e.g. one drink and you become an alcoholic) are
only going to make kids less likely to share with parents what is going
The following tips may increase your likelihood of getting accurate
information and opening channels of communication:
* Express to them that it is infinitely more important to you that
they are safe from harm and happy than is any household rule. Impart on
your kids the understanding that if they have been drinking and need any
sort of help to ensure their safety (for example, transportation), that
it will be provided.
* Express to them that though family rules are important to uphold,
you respect their ability to make responsible decisions.
* Express that you and your spouse will attempt to be as flexible as
possible with regard to solutions.
* Express your understanding as to the reasons why a teenager might
experiment with drugs or alcohol. This is not the same as condoning
underage drinking or illegal drug use. It is simply conveying to your
children that you understand the obvious and are open to discussing the
issue should it arise.