Prev Next
Teenagers and Bad News Parties: What Do We Tell Them?

Teenagers and Bad News Parties: What Do We Tell Them?

By Mir Kamin

Got tweens/teens? We’re trying a new advice column here at Alpha Mom to address your questions for the older-kid crowd. We hope you enjoy! And if you have a question to submit, hit me up at alphamomteens[at]gmail[dot]com.

***************

B writes:

How do you handle your own teenager’s request to go to a party when you think there will be alcohol/drugs there? At what point do you let them make their own choices and hope for the best vs. stepping in and just saying no? And… what about the consequences if they do go and the police show up? A teen I know wasn’t caught with alcohol, herself, but got the same punishment (benched for soccer games when the school found out about the party) as the ones with drinks in hand. Do we let them go and teach them to run like hell if the cops show up?

Oof, this is a tough one, and—as usual—I think there’s multiple issues here. I’ll unpack it as best I can.

Issue 1: Where are you going? In our family, my teenagers are expected to ask permission to go places and volunteer some information about where they’ll be, who they’ll be with, and when I can expect them back. I like to think that all reasonable requests are granted, but what a parent finds reasonable and what a kid finds reasonable may vary. Also, what’s reasonable changes over time—when my kids were young teens, “a parent must be home” was part of the rules, and as they’ve grown, now it’s not. Similarly, when my oldest was making some questionable life decisions, we kept a much tighter rein on her (to protect her from herself as much as anything), and as maturity and responsibility have grown, we’ve relaxed.

[Full disclosure, here: Both of my kids are introverts and parties are pretty much just not their jam. I don’t have a ton of personal experience in dealing with the sort of situation you describe, but of course we have had requests to go places and do things with kids who were maybe not the greatest influences, so I think it’s similar.]

I can count on one hand with fingers left over the number of times I flat-out refused permission because I felt a situation was just plain bad news, but it has happened, and the only explanation I offered was, “I am uncomfortable with the situation you described and you will not be going. Feel free to tell your friends what a horrible jerk I am.” (There have been more times, actually, that one or the other kid has come to me and said, “Can I go to [some event], please say no?” I am totally okay being the fall guy when it comes to the kids saving face.) More often, if a request gets my hackles up, I grant provisional permission and the conversation continues. Which brings us to…

Issue 2: How do we feel about drugs/alcohol? Talking to your kids about drinking and illicit substances is one of those things—much like talking about sex—that is not a “one and done” conversation, but an ongoing dialog through their childhood and young adult years. Everyone has to choose their own approach to this, but I would say everyone needs to be willing to discuss it, or, as we all know, your teens will talk about it elsewhere (and maybe get a point of view you’d rather they didn’t).

My husband and I are social drinkers (drinks with friends on the weekends every once in a while, maybe a glass of wine with a nice dinner). We are not teetotalers. On the other hand, we don’t drink to the point of inebriation, and because I am both a very cheap date and very paranoid, I don’t get behind the wheel of a car if I’ve had so much as a single drink. Furthermore, we’re adults and it’s legal for us to consume alcohol. These are all things I talk about with my kids. I’ve also been very honest with my kids about some of the, erm, mistakes of my youth, and my refrain is always this: I was a basically good kid who made basically responsible decisions with a few irresponsible and illegal ones thrown in there, and I am very, very lucky I was never caught, because it could’ve ruined my future. My husband teaches at a big university. Every August the student newspaper runs a front-page mugshot article about all the freshmen who came here and got caught drinking before classes even started, and they were arrested and kicked out of school.

The bottom line in our house: There is no drink or drug worth jeopardizing your future for. None. Illegal drugs are bad news, period, and drinking at their age is also illegal, so before they think it might be “fun” or “cool” to try something, would they be willing to try stealing from a store? How about punching a cop? No? Huh. Maybe you just don’t want to do things which are illegal, because they are repugnant to you both morally and in terms of the consequences. Remember that.

And we go one further, too: We’ve seen parents try to get their kids out of legal trouble when drugs/alcohol are involved, and my kids know that if they get busted, we’re not going to save them. Break the law, face the consequences. (I don’t mention this very often, as all of our other discussions about brain formation, addiction, and poor decisions have thankfully rendered both kids convinced they will never drink or do drugs.) So that just leaves…

Issue 3: Escape routes and extraction. As you mentioned, B, there’s the potential for ramifications for a kid who’s just at a bad-news party, even if she’s not the one doing anything wrong. Consequences at school are a bummer, but being arrested isn’t out of the question, either, depending on what ends up going down. Again, our message to the kids is clear: You are putting yourself in potential danger by being present in that situation, as it sort of makes you an “accessory to the crime” even if you’re innocent. So don’t go into a situation like that in the first place, but if you find yourself in one, what do you?

My kids know that they can call us for a safe ride home, for themselves or friends, at any time, no questions asked. (Should such a situation arise, there will be a discussion the following day.) Now that my daughter is driving, she knows not to allow an impaired minor in her car because, again, even if she’s trying to help, that potentially makes her look guilty and can have unwanted ramifications. Call us and we will come get you or another kid in need, period. But the reality is that picking up the phone—or walking out, if you have your own transportation—can be tricky in the world of teenagers. So we also have an “extraction phrase” which can be texted to us. To someone who’s unaware, it seems benign, but it’s a Bat Signal of sorts, and if I receive it, I call my kid and give an Oscar-worthy performance of Crazy Mom, centering on some transgression I’ve just discovered here at home and why you are so grounded, I mean it, come home right now. It gets them out, and they don’t lose face.

I’ve been very lucky in that both my children are the ones most likely to lecture their peers about why that is a terrible idea, dude, and while much of that is because of who they are, I like to think that at least some of it is because we’ve had this ongoing dialog all their lives. I hope some of this helps, B. Good luck!

****************

Don’t forget that you can submit your own question to alphamomteens[at]gmail[dot]com.

Photo source: Photodune

Mir Kamin
About the Author

Mir Kamin

Mir Kamin began writing about her life online over a decade ago, back when she was a divorced mom trying to raise two regular little kids and figure out what she wanted to be when she grew up. Now ...

Mir Kamin began writing about her life online over a decade ago, back when she was a divorced mom trying to raise two regular little kids and figure out what she wanted to be when she grew up. Now her life looks very different than it did back then: Those little kids turned into anything-but-regular teenagers, she is remarried, and somehow she’s become one of those people who talks to her dogs in a high-pitched baby voice. Along the way she’s continued chronicling the everyday at Woulda Coulda Shoulda, plus she’s bringing you daily bargain therapy at Want Not. The good news is that Mir grew up and became a writer and she still really likes hanging out with her kids; the bad news is that her hair is a lot grayer than it used to be.

icon icon
chat bubble icon

Comments

  • MR

    Yes to the bat signal! My mom always told us, “blame it on me.” So, any time my friends pushed me to do something that I wasn’t comfortable with, I told them my mom wouldn’t let me. And any time they pushed me to do it anyway and not tell her, I told them they were crazy for thinking she wouldn’t find out, and gave them examples of things that my siblings did and got into trouble for because she found out. Now, she definitely didn’t know EVERYTHING, but she certainly did catch my siblings enough times that my friends had no doubt my mom really was capable of such things, so they all just said it sucked for me because I had the “strict” parents, and I just shrugged and agreed. I got to go home safe and with a clean conscience, and never lost face with my friends.

  • Pingback: Mean Mom, reporting for duty | Woulda Coulda Shoulda()

  • Kay

    If you think the party could be raided by the cops and drugs and alcohol found, please step in and say no. When I was growing up, there was a sense of this being “normal teen activity”, and it was mostly handled out of court by parents and the high school. Where I am living (northeastern US), this no longer seems to be the case.

    Like Mir’s husband, I also work for a large university. We’ve had to revoke offers of admission or drop offered scholarships when it comes to light that a high school senior was arrested at a party. In 1 case a freshman had already moved into the dorms when the arrest was uncovered, and he had to move out the same day and call his parents to come back and get him. Some high schools put notes about the event on the transcript, tanking otherwise excellent students’ chances of college admission. If a high school senior is 18 or over, it can be a whole other legal can of worms. And if anyone took video footage of the party on a smartphone, the evidence of participation is out there forever and hard to refute or explain. 

  • Our youngest snuck out to parties after we went to sleep. I’d sometimes catch him. He’s one of those kids that got into the drinking and drugs scene and it caught up with him. When it all came crashing down, I’m very glad he was caught and arrested. I’m glad someone narced. It was an opportunity for turning around. His future won’t look anything like what I’d envisioned, but that’s okay. He’s his own person, with his own demons to battle. We’re here for him, but he has to make his own way, grow up at the pace he’s chosen.

    It’s been tough for the whole family. It’s also been a growth experience for all of us. Learning to let go, let him fall on his face and suffer the consequences, has been tough. Being the responsible parent who helps him maneuver through the consequences, without controlling the outcome, has been brutal. But we’re all finally growing up.

    That’s just our journey. Everyone follows a different path. We wouldn’t have chosen this, but it chose us. Some of it was brought on by mental illness. Some of it by our own naivete. I just thank God that he wasn’t killed along the way, and that’s he’s come out of it willing to stay clean. Long way from being whole, but working toward it all the time.

    I know this diverges a bit from the topic, being on the bad kid’s mom end of things, but I think our story has value.

    • Your story is completely relevant here, and I thank you for sharing it. It’s weird to think that an arrest could be the beginning of a happy ending, but… yeah.

  • Lucinda

    Extraction phrase!  I’m going to remember that when my kids get to that point.  We are just on the cusp of it now.  I have already been the fall guy for getting them out of invitations they are not sure they want to accept.  I’m all for the “Oscar worthy performance” if need be.

  • Brenda

    I think having an extraction phrase is so smart. I know that for me, it’s always when I’m unprepared that I react the worst to situations. Having a plan in place, even if it’s never used, is very comforting to me. When I was a senior, a large portion of my class was busted at a Halloween party that had alcohol. I remember feeling so relieved that I was out of town (not that I would have been invited or gone to the party) and that my friends were smart enough to avoid anything like that. It really made me feel like people thought our entire class was filled with foolish, unthinking people, and I felt disappointment from the community even though I wasn’t remotely involved.

  • TC

    All of the above. Also, we have a deal in my household that if you don’t want to go to a party/be in a social situation that is uncomfortable, but you don’t want to look uncool to your friends, you can tell them a lie about being grounded/having to do some family thing/whatever, and I will totally back you up. The catch? Whatever lie you choose becomes truth. So if you say you were grounded, you are … in the sense that you can’t go anywhere else that night, either. If you say we have a family event, same. No making plans with other friends and then making ME look like a liar. Hang out with the family, and we’ll make popcorn and watch a movie and have a great time. My oldest used that out several times in high school, and was super grateful to have it. My youngest hasn’t needed it yet, but if it comes up, he knows it’s there for him.

    • TC

      Oh. And for college kids? Uber becomes the “I’ll pick you and your friends up anywhere without a question or a comment.” I now have an Uber account for my kid, so that any rides she charges will come to me; this way she doesn’t have to weigh whether she has the money for an Uber ride while deciding whether to get in a car with a drunk friend at an off-campus party. (It also tells me that she’s been picked up and delivered, so win win.) She’s used it a couple of times in the three months she’s been at school, and I’m really happy that it’s been there for her. (We also have rules about how Mom’s Uber money is NOT going for her and her friends to go downtown to go shopping when there’s a free campus bus that will do that! 😉 )

      • This is a GREAT idea, TC! I’ll be planning on that for my own kiddo when she leaves next year. Thank you!!

      • Myriam

        In Montreal, we have what’s called “cool taxi”. It’s like a prepaid gift card that all cab will accept. You can purchase them in advance, and always have them on you. It was started by 2 parents whose kids were in alcohol related accidents…

  • Kim

    We are having those talks already. We are all medicated, either for anxiety or for ADD ( or both, yea me!) Alcoholism runs in my husband’s family, and it becomes easy for ADD brains to self medicate, so yeah, bad idea.
    Having said all that, crap, I’m glad my very limited shenanigans happened way back when, because the comments sound positively draconian. Everybody deserves to have a few mistakes under their belts, and frankly, I’d prefer that my kids’ first “drunk” happens when they are still living with me, and not at some frat party where binge drinking looks like the norm. And now this certified goody two shoes sounds like she’s advocating high school alcohol parties. Head is spinning….

    • Ha! Listen, it’s not necessarily the drunkenness I’m opposed to (not that I think it’s a good idea, but you know…), but the illegality. We wouldn’t say “kids will be kids” if our kids robbed a bank, so why do we (we meaning society) treat teen drinking as no big deal? It’s illegal and can ruin lives in more ways than one.

      The legal drinking age in this country is 21, and both kids are medicated so drinking is a terrible idea for them, anyway. Hopefully neither of them will change their tune and go get loaded at a college kegger, but… fears of that aren’t going to get me condoning reckless behavior now, you know? (And you raise a great point about medication and family histories, too—I think a huge part of my kids’ aversion is knowing how easily drinking could turn into something really awful for them.)

      • Flic

        On the other hand, it is the norm in France (and well most of Europe really) that teenagers are allowed to have a glass of wine with a meal on a special occasion, and it is introduced at a younger age (hell, in most European countries it is legal to drink wine/beer from 14, and spirits from 16) and those countries all have minimal problems with binge drinking the way the US and UK do.

      • KE

        I decided when I was 17 that given extended family history, my mental health challenges (not medicated, but probably could have been) and personality in general I should not start drinking even when I was old enough. I’m 34 now, still don’t drink, and am grateful for that decision because there were times when I was old enough that it still could have been a very bad idea. Even at 21 the brain is not “done”. Even now there are times when I am reminded my brain doesn’t need extra challenges. So, good on your kids being able to recognize that maybe it isn’t for them and that’s OK. And most people that are worth spending time with get that. Plus who doesn’t like having having a friend that is always happy to be the designated driver?

      • Kim

        I have a long way to go with this stuff, and everyone is raising good points. I certainly don’t want my (future) teenagers getting drunk, and I’m definitely not of the “boys (or kids) will be boys” mindset. I’m just wildly conflicted about how high the stakes are.  Getting kicked out of school for being at the wrong party, when the social pressure is so intense already- holy crap. There’s so little control any individual kid has over that situation, and teenage brains with or without ADD are impulsive to the point of stupidity anyway.  It just seems like we need to make room for mistakes.  Oy.  Where do I sign up to keep my kids under 10 permanently?

        • Kate

          Yeah, I have huge problems with these zero tolerance policies at colleges because for one thing they clearly aren’t working. I’ve also read a few stories of kids who were kicked out/denied admission based on photos of them online holding a red solo cup which is ridiculous. 

          • That sort of thing is where we go too far to the other extreme, for sure. And that’s part of the “guilty by association” discussions we have, too—it may not be right or fair, but it is the reality, so think carefully about what might be assumed based on where you are/who you’re with/what you’re doing.

  • Jessica

    When I was a freshman in college, a bunch of my friends decided to have a massive drinking party with the one of-age person bringing her (of-age) boyfriend to act as bartender. (He wasn’t a student at the college.) I was invited, but I wasn’t a drinker (for the same reason you mention here: it was illegal). I instead opted to go to a townie friend’s house for the night to get out of the way, so I only found out the next day when I came back that they had been raided and it was pretty bad. In the eyes of the dorm administration (the “dorm mom” person) in our dorm I was long “guilty by association” even though I wasn’t there. I caught the head dorm administrator listening outside my door several times, most often when I wasn’t even in my room! I’d come back from class or work, and she’d be listening outside my door (or sometimes a friend’s door).

    I never thought about it before, but I just realized that I was on a full-tuition scholarship, so I could have potentially lost my scholarship if I had been at the party even if I wasn’t drinking. As it was, I didn’t drink alcohol until I was 21, and I just hated the taste (still do). So many have told me that I need to keep drinking it to “acquire the taste,” but I don’t really see the need. I’m in my late 30s now, and it’s not like I need to drink alcohol to exist, right? Most adults get it when I say I don’t like the taste, and those that don’t…well, I just don’t go out with them again. I’m too old to deal with that high-school crap.

  • Jan

    I love the bat signal extraction phrase idea!  My daughter learned a similar technique at a babysitting course she took recently (their scenario was:  the dad comes home drunk and all ready to drive her home).

    Another one I just ready recently that I love is to have a third party that your kids can call in that I Need Help situation. A promise of no repercussions is one thing, but a call to somebody besides Mom (who will help, and get parents involved as needed) could be so much easier to a kid who wants and needs to save face in the moment.

  • Leigh

    Mir, I’d love to know your opinion on whether or not to tell your childrens’ friends’ parents and/or the school when you find out through your kid that another kid is drinking/using drugs/cheating on tests etc… This comes up time and again in my world. Particularly, can you comment on how it should be handled if the other parent is a friend versus you don’t know them at all.

    • I think this is a delicate and highly personal thing. As a parent, I want to know what my kid is doing… especially if my kid is doing something wrong. I’ve learned the hard way that not every parent is grateful for intel when their little darlings are up to no good, though. So, my own personal stance? If we’re talking something at school (like cheating), I encourage my kids to let an appropriate adult know their concerns. If we’re talking about something like dangerous behavior at a party, I absolutely let parents know if they’re friends of mine. If I don’t know the parents, I don’t. (But I have, on occasion, talked to the parents I know who know those other parents, asking for information to be passed along.) I can’t tell you if this is “right,” but it’s how I handle it.

  • Britt

    I love the idea of an extraction phrase!  My husband already uses me as the fall guy for functions he doesn’t want to attend.  Especially since I got pregnant!  He does the, “I don’t know if my wife will feel up for that…” whenever someone tries to pin him down to something he doesn’t want to do.  

    🙂  Now I just have to think of something innocuous to use…

  • Leigh

    And a follow up question…when if ever is it okay to anonymously narc on other kids based on information you have from your own kid? Especially with regard to academic cheating?

  • As regards cheating, I would be very reluctant to act on hearsay (even if I totally believed my kid). My kids are in high school and any college they might attend will have an academic honor code; I encourage them to speak up about cheating the same way they will be expects to at college — because it’s the right thing to do to keep their own learning environment honest.

  • Caz

    I’m really curious as to how you (the royal you of the comments section perhaps) deal with this when your kid is the extroverted one.

    I’m 30 (no kids) and while I like your theories, (and basically agree with them) they were essentially the same ones my (introverted) mother had for me. I knew I could call any time and she’d pick me up, but I also knew that there would be consequences the next day. And thus, I never called. Luckily I never* ended up in situations I was overly uncomfortable in or that were out of control. But I got away with FAR more than I know my mother would have allowed and always figured the gamble of getting caught was worth it over fessing up (I was caught maybe 1 of every 10 times so the consequences ended up in my favour.)

    I was a (very) smart, basically good, kid who made my fair share of irresponsible (and illegal) choices. But, living in Canada, with a (previously) more lenient view on alcohol, sex and drugs, I don’t feel I was “very very lucky” to escape with no ramifications to my actions. I just feel “normally lucky for a smart/responsible person”. I don’t take being Canadian lightly, although I do think our views, and our laws are in between the USA and Europe on drinking/drugs etc. And I have obviously grown up massive amounts since 16-19 and now view those shenanigans differently.

    I’m asking, out of curiosity, and advice for my future children, how would, or do, you act when your child is the extroverted one who may be more prone to that experimentation? What would you do if booze/weed was NOT going to ruin your child’s life? 

    (AFAIK in Canada those things will rarely-if-ever end up on a police record, high school transcript or university admission. True story -we were under 19 (drinking age) and living in dorms and legally the university could do nothing if we were drinking in our own dorm room -because it is leased, private property -halls and common spaces was different, but it was essentially overlooked. I guess they could have called the police but no one ever did or would have. We all drank, although FB did not exist for proof after the fact)

    • Alice

      (I’m also someone without kids, so this is a largely hypothetical answer.)

      In a nutshell, my family’s stance on things was like Facebook’s ‘it’s complicated’ relationship status – no hard and fast rules, but a lot of ‘here are the various realities at play.’ None of us have any moral problems with drinking or using pot – neither one inherently hurts other people, and breaking a bad law isn’t something they see as being immoral.

      But laws that you think are bullshit are still laws, and – like Mir -they were very upfront about the fact that they weren’t going to swoop in and try to sweep something under the rug if we got into trouble. I remember that there was one point when I realized that if I were ever caught with pot at the house, my mom was the one who could face legal consequences, and that definitely moderated my behavior more than anything that might have happened to me. (I didn’t know about the effects of a drug conviction on federal student loans at that point.)

      As for the extrovert/introvert thing, my friends with kids are finding that a lot of issues end up being the same – extroverted kids can still feel uncomfortable going against the crowd and/or voicing their discomfort, so it’s good to have escape routes planned. But since they aren’t as likely to want to opt-out entirely, the plans can be different. They can often focus more on directly setting boundaries, distracting people from the fact that they’re not doing X, Y, or Z, or learning how to gracefully say ‘no thanks, I’m good.’

      But I’m definitely interested in how other people have navigated that part of things, since it can be so different from the introverted kid experience!

    • I think this is a hard question to answer because it’s so theoretical for us in the US. I’m not opposed to responsible alcohol use (and FWIW I think marijuana should be legal, too, and I’ve been honest with my kids about that, but as long as it’s not, I won’t be using it and neither should they), but the stakes are simply too high for our young people in terms of both safety and legality. But let’s assume that “once you’re of age” is a reasonable parallel: My counsel to my kids is that once it’s legal for them to experiment they should do so in a safe environment with people they trust. Don’t try alcohol the first time at a giant party, or with a new love interest, or really anywhere that you’ll be reliant on others to get home or might have to transport yourself in an altered state. We also talk about how getting “a little buzzed” is very different than falling-down-drunk, and once you’re so drunk that you feel awful, it’s not like you can turn it off… it lasts for a long time and then you’re sick for a long time after.

      I think the approach in European countries where kids learn responsible consumption at home, with their parents, is far preferable to how we handle it here in the US. But at the same time, I wouldn’t want to be giving alcohol to my teens, soooo… yeah. It’s hard.