I look back fondly at the time when my kids were in their terrible twos. The time when my most pressing concern about their behaviour was if they were going make a number 1 or a number 2 at the mall, airport, aircraft, neighbour’s house, gala dinner party – you get the drift, they’ve done ‘it’ everywhere! Fast forward 10 + years and bam! It’s teen time, and this ride is a roller coaster that just won’t stop. Out of all the teen stuff that gets me chewing my toenails out of fear, alcohol consumption gives me sleepless nights.
Now don’t get me wrong, we are the ‘cool’ parents, we have managed to maintain a ceasefire on most days; unless there’s tinda on the table and pizza in the Swiggy cart. Even then, we can strike a favorable deal that works well for both sides. But alcohol, that’s a tricky situation. Maybe we find it tricky because we are not exactly teetotalers, we enjoy some tipple on and off, and we enjoy the goofiness that comes with it. We’ve also been those teens who swindled rum from dad’s bar and topped it with water. So yeah, we’ve been there, done that. And that’s why, because we know every trick in the book, we are a bit wary of what our spawn is up to when it comes to alcohol.
The conversation about alcohol with teens is almost as tough as the one about sex. We all have it, we enjoy it – but we don’t want our kids to do it, yet. It’s basically the same ‘adulting’ game, just different genres. So, we were jolted into this conversation with our 14-year-old when she sheepishly mentioned that she had a sip of wine at a party from a friend’s elder sister’s glass. She was curious and wanted a taste.
Needless to say, all kinds of alarm bells rang, and red flags surfaced. My mind raced in all directions – “That’s it! She’s going to the hostel”, “What else is she curious about?”, “Is this a Tik Tok trend now?” – once the hysteria in my head calmed, I got thinking … The fact that she told us was a big deal, which means our communication lines are working great. But the fact that she may have started drinking or is going to eventually, needed to be addressed.
Tipple trouble – What leads teens to alcohol?
Alcohol consumption in teens can have any number of starting points – teen years are all about rebellion and ‘fitting in’. This can lead to some challenging situations for parents (there’s a reason why men start balding at a certain age and women double up on yoga and meditation to keep their sanity – we have teenagers at home).
Hormonal changes, mood swings, and the quest to be their own person often drive teens to extremes, alcohol consumption being one of them. Peer pressure, depression, external influences (it’s cool to drink, all the celebs are doing it and bragging about it on Instagram), anxiety (having problems fitting in), to bolster their image (look older, more mature for their age), parents who have alcohol issues – all of these could be causes for your teen to turn to the bottle for comfort because it is the most easily accessible form of intoxicant (read: escape) available. It’s in our homes, just open the bar cabinet and you’re sorted, contrary to cocaine which they would have to buy from shady people in shady places, where they would have to ask ‘us’ to drive them. No, but seriously, alcohol by nature is addictive and easily accessible, legally available. Teens are predisposed to do the exact opposite of what their well-meaning parents shout at them. So, this issue needs to be handled intentionally – neat and bottoms up.
How do you deal with your teen who is drinking alcohol already?
The health risks of alcohol consumption in teens are much more complex than they are in adults. While our livers are sturdier with age (small mercies!) teen bodies are not able to process alcohol as well as adults which puts them at a greater risk of complications. Binge drinking can lead to all sorts of Defcon 1 level threats such as being taken advantage of sexually, drunk driving that can lead to serious accidents, and alcohol poisoning which can go from highly unpleasant bouts of retching (a desirable outcome) to fatal (a most undesirable outcome). We realized in our conversations with our teens that there is no way to sugarcoat this. Just give them all the details, throw in a few celebrity examples (there are more than enough for it to be a relatable issue), and generally give them a gist of the good, the bad, and the ugly of alcohol consumption.
My favourite go-to line to end all ‘adulting’ conversations with teens is:
‘Too much of anything is bad & there is a right time for everything’
This sage advice comes peppered with anecdotes of people who led lives of excesses and indulged in behaviour inappropriate for their age that led them down the path of being CANCELLED on social media (oh the horror!)
On a serious note, I have realised through observation and experience that even though teenagers thrive on chaos, they also look for structure and balance. I strongly believe they’re mostly pushing the envelope to see how far they can go – with their health, their friends, their impulses, and of course their parents. Alcohol and teens are a recipe for disaster, and parents need to address it honestly. Drinking is cool and celebratory – the media sends this message out constantly and honestly so do we.
What’s important to address here is the responsibility that goes with the action and how that kind of responsibility is a burden only adults should handle, not teenagers. We’ve seen in our circles that when it comes to handling teens who are dealing with serious issues like alcohol parents resort to extreme measures. Punishment for misdemeanors in the past meant a good pasting, now we just switch off the Wi-Fi and take away their phones (ultimate capital punishment for teens). It works sometimes, but only briefly. Communication works best with teens. So, talk it out, do it together or even get a professional to help you out if you can’t handle it alone – just keep talking. That way not only will you be able to make your case for healthy restrictions and age-appropriate behaviour, but you will also get a glimpse of what goes on in the mind of your teenager. So, you’re prepared for the next big life event that makes you want to pour yourself a stiff one.
According to you, how should parents help their children in this situation? How would you have handled this situation?