Parent's Resource Center

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 them.

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 following tactics:

 

* 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 on.

 

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.