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Teen Wants to Experiment with Alcohol
Q: I have daughter who is 16. She is not a risk taker and is a bit of an introvert. But she's very attractive, bright, and witty.
Most of her friends have experimented with alcohol and a number of them are drinking every weekend. She claims she has not. It seems like she is really struggling with whether she wants to drink. She has asked me if I care if she drinks.
I didn't do a good job using this opportunity because I am not sure how I feel. I drank at 16 and didn't have any bad experiences because of it. I know others who did. I answered her with "just use your head" (she asked this as she was getting out of the car to go to a party. She came home early and didn't drink). I want her to have the skills for decision making and not make choices just out of the fear of authority or the unknown. Yet, she doesn't have the maturity for all of this either. What do I say?
A: I understand your wanting your daughter to "use her head" in making responsible decisions regarding drinking, as opposed to not drinking because of a "fear of authority or the unknown". Yet, you rightly note that she is only 16, "really struggling with whether she wants to drink" and "doesn't have the maturity" to make these decisions on her own. Yes, she looked to you for guidance and you did not give her the counsel and support that she needed. But you can and must give her the parenting that she needs to make healthy decisions regarding the very serious business of teenage drinking.
Whether you "drank at 16 and didn't have any bad experiences because of it" is not the point or the focus here. This is about your daughter's dilemma regarding drinking, not yours. Drinking is illegal at 16. Why would you encourage her, directly or indirectly, to drink illegally or to associate with kids who are drinking and driving? Just because most of her social peers are drinking does not mean that she has to join them. Good friends will accept you and maintain their friendship with you if you declare yourself to be a non-drinker. Your daughter needs to know that. She also needs to know that neither her popularity nor her true friendships are at stake if she chooses not to drink.
Wanting to experiment with alcohol or drugs is normal teenage behavior in our society. I would ask your daughter why she might want to drink. Is she feeling pressured to drink by others? What are her fears related to drinking? Was she seen or has she been with kids who drink and drive? These and other open-ended questions should be part of your discussions with her about her current struggles regarding drinking. Listen carefully to what informs her struggling and give her the counsel and support that she needs to make the healthy decision.
Don't base your advice or concern on your own underage drinking experiments. You were lucky that nothing bad happened to you when you drank as a teen. I would suggest that you do not look as cavalierly upon your daughter's drinking as you do your own. Do you want to bet on her being "lucky" too? Do you care that you are currently sending her an "I really don't care if you drink or not" message? I guarantee you that the opportunities for her to drink will only increase, as will her confusion. I think that you do and you need to correct the harm of such a message and begin parenting her with certainty, values, and conviction regarding her decisions to drink. Thanks for writing.
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Carleton Kendrick has been in private practice as a family therapist and has worked as a consultant for more than 20 years. He has conducted parenting seminars on topics ranging from how to discipline toddlers to how to stay connected with teenagers. Kendrick has appeared as an expert on national broadcast media such as CBS, Fox Television Network, Cable News Network, CNBC, PBS, and National Public Radio. In addition, he's been quoted in the New York Times, Washington Post, Chicago Tribune, Boston Globe, USA Today, Reader's Digest, BusinessWeek, Good Housekeeping, Woman's Day, and many other publications.