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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.

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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!

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

Photo source: Photodune

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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.

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MR
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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… Read more »

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[…] In the continuing saga of Mir Gives Out Advice On The Internet Like She Knows Stuff Or Something, today at Alpha Mom I’m tackling the question of how to handle kids and parties where there may be drinking and/or drugs. […]

Kay
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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… Read more »

Flea
Guest

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.… Read more »

Lucinda
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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
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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… Read more »

TC
Guest

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… Read more »

TC
Guest

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… Read more »

Myriam
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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
Guest
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… Read more »

Jessica
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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… Read more »

Jan
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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… Read more »

Leigh
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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.

Britt
Guest
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
Guest
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?

Caz
Guest
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… Read more »

Alice
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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… Read more »