Only Things Plastered Are the Walls of Our House

"Mom, you have to hear this message," Katie said, handing me her cell phone. What followed were 30 or 40 seconds of gibberish.

"Whatever … [laughter] … hello? … [giggling] … no, wait … whatever … give me the phone." The voices of three of Katie's high school acquaintances babbled and slurred their way through the phone line until one of them finished the call with this ironic announcement: "I am not wasted. Really."

"Wow," I said. "If that wasn't the sound of 'wasted' I'd like to hear the message after a few more beers."

The phone message, delivered at 1 in the morning, is one Katie will forget quickly. Unfortunately, the teens who made that call probably will have even less recollection of it, given their obvious state of inebriation.

But whatever.

In our culture, teen drinking seems to be a rite of passage, like getting acne or a driver's license. It's just something all youngsters do — part of the rebellious years we parents are supposed to accept as normal adolescence.

Statistics from the National Institute on Drug Abuse, displayed on the Students Against Destructive Decisions Web site (www.sadd.org/stats.htm), tell us that 75 percent of American teenagers try alcohol in high school. Partying begins for some as early as seventh or eighth grade, with more than half of all teens establishing regular drinking habits by age 17.

Teen drinking, it seems, is the norm.

Happily, however, this is one area in which my teenagers aren't normal. (As their younger brother would insist, there are many other areas as well. But I digress).

That's right. Apparently, it is possible to make it to your junior year in high school — and (gasp) even graduate — without getting wasted, trashed, buzzed, loaded or plastered.

Now, before you put the paper down and decide I'm just some naïve ostrich-mother, obliviously ignoring my teens' age-appropriate experimentation, guess again. I'm a lot of things, but I'm not naive.

Besides, that sort of cynical attitude strikes me as one big reason why teens seem to have free rein to invade the liquor cabinet and mix up a refreshing batch of vodka and fruit punch (yuck). With adults all around them expecting them at least to try drinking, there's not much reason to refrain.

Instead of the attitude that teen drinking was one more thing we would have to face, my husband and I put out the challenge to our children to buck the trend. We don't demand perfection — in this or any area of behavior — but we figure just because the odds are against success, that doesn't mean we ought to drop the bar of our ideal.

After all, the statistic on teen drinking isn't 100 percent. Somebody, somewhere, is making it to 21 before imbibing adult beverages.

As with so much of parenting, I'm convinced that when it comes to drinking, we generally get what we expect. The new conventional wisdom about adolescents says we should count on them to rebel, to flagrantly ignore our parental commands and to talk back.

In fact, one child-development expert says teens need to talk back in order to assert their independence and explore their individuality. This guy says the job of parents is to help children talk back in ways that aren't destructive to our relationships.

No. Really. Read that again.

(I'm not going to include this guy's name out of concern for his safety. This kind of ridiculous assertion could get his house egged by a whole bunch of moms who are sick of being "dissed" by their own children.)

We shortchange our children when we drop our standards in this way. Instead of giving them ideals to reach, we give them excuses for failing to try.

Then we ought not wonder why teens talk back and later, with friends, toast their newfound independence with a case of beer swiped from mom and dad's fridge.

Setting an expectation of success is just one half of the equation, however. The other half is the decision on the part of teens that an alcohol-free youth is worth the effort.

At some point, our daughters simply decided that whatever the social rewards might be of partying, they weren't worth the commensurate loss of self-respect (and a hangover, to boot).

It turns out, according to my daughters anyway, that avoiding teen drinking isn't all that complicated. Because everyone knows who the "partyers" are, it's simply a matter of avoiding their parties. Once you decline an invitation or two, you get a reputation as someone who isn't interested. You gravitate toward others who share your social style. You hang out. You have fun. You stay sober.

I'm willing to consider the possibility that I'm oversimplifying this issue. Teens drink for a host of reasons, from feeling insecure and desiring to fit in to succumbing to peer pressure and even, sadly, escaping depression. Clearly, the current generation of teens drinking to excess is yearning to quench a thirst — one that seems to be generating from the heart.

That's a thirst parents need to address.

Then again, perhaps more of us should just decide not to give in to the prevailing assumption that all teens drink. When we stand confidently behind our children and communicate our belief that they can outperform the norm, they may take that challenge. It's worth the effort because success and genuine self-esteem are the best high of all.

You never know — for more teens, sober could become the new normal.

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  • Guest

    I used to be a member of the Legion of Mary and,if i had teens in my home,i would take them in amongst the down and outs i helped to look after.After seeing the results of too much drinking,they would view the world rather differently.I know of one man with a drink problem who seemed to conquer his addiction.However,by the time he did so,his wife

    had left him.He longed for an hour with his daughter but she didn't want to know.

    If the politicians spent as much effort trying to cure this problem as they have done with smoking,we would be better off.OK,smoking is unhealthy,but most people i know,who died of cancer,were at such an age that their children were adults and no longer dependent on them.

  • Guest

    God loves you .

    As a smoker, daffodil – such an appealing name! – my behavior has hardly altered while I am ‘on nicotine, tars, etc.’

    When long ago I was young, in my rebellious teen years I still possessed a mother who, at 4’10″, hit like Joe Louis, HARD! and Babe Ruth – for distance! But, too, I have no idea where my family booze stash was and did not have the walkin’-around money to build my own stash. Same-same for drugs of any kind. And, I didn’t smoke until college. My friends and acquaintances in my high school years were of similar thought – giving-no-thought-to? – and – inability?

    If I took so much as a penny from my parents without permission, there was doom to pay. My having the car depended upon my paying half the cost of my side of insurance, keeping the one used re-fueled and all makes and models washed and waxed. And, I always had a car at my disposal, my parents keeping faith with my responsibility. Driving inebriated would have cost me driving privileges altogether.

    My daughter informed me that in her h.s. years, she had a beer now and then, but didn’t much like any alcoholic beverage. (Remember, too, that she was half-orphaned, and I depended upon being able to trust her to early responsibilities.) She was a volunteer with a local no-drug-no-drinking counseling group to kids in her age bracket. In her ‘dotage’, so to speak, she likes a glass of wine now and again, and in drinking establishments, she still reminds me that ‘Dad, even in those places you didn’t drink’ (because I was the driver, most likely).

    Parent – rule-maker – child rule-obeyer – simple. You want any kind of privileges – like a paycheck day visit together with her friends to malls (I spent lavishly on this privilege shared by my Helena with her friends – one girl still has a prom dress she could never have afforded on her single-mother’s allowance to her) – you toe the line. My favorite caution – ‘I say what is or is not until you pay the rent for the second month in a row’. She even had to earn the privilege to date by getting on the honor roll twice in a row.

    **And, I never struck her – I rarely had to raise my voice!** She abided, and she came out better than one might think, being a young one who came home to an empty house. (Well, except for two cats . . .)

    Just remember this – ‘Because I’m the Mommy/Daddy!’ And, because someone has to be . . .

    Remember, I love you, too

    Through Christ, with Christ, in Christ,

    Pristinus Sapienter

    (wljewell @catholicexchange.com or … yahoo.com)

  • Guest

    I graduated from college a year ago. I'm proud and thankful to say that I didn't have a drink until my 21st birthday. There were several offers, but I didn't want to ruin the privilege of turning 21 and being able to legally drink alcohol. Remaining alcohol free for 21 years helps build self-control, and you learn that you can have a good time without getting drunk.

    Parents: I know teenagers and college students test your strength to lay down the rules. While they may not understand and like how you handle things at the moment, someday they will realize the sacrifices you made for them. It may not happen right away, but someday they will be grateful. As I struggle to make it on my own, I see glimpses of how my parents raised me and my brother. They lead mostly by example.

    God bless you in your vocations to lead your families closer to Christ!

  • Guest

    I'll drink to that!

     

    GK – God is good!

  • Guest

    Just kiddin'.  I am glad to see people stick up for their kids and ask them to avoid drinking.

    I get huge headaches when I drink.  I only drink when it is absolutely necessary.  I hope they don't waste too much time and money getting drunk.  It really is not all it is cracked up to be.

    GK – God is good!

  • Guest

    God loves you .

    GK, describe:
    ‘huge headaches’,
    morning-afters,
    horrifying results from drunk drivers,
    persons who ended up *’spouse’* and/or *’parent’* and/or *diseased* and/or *mugged and robbed*, etc., or worst of worst (see below) while intoxicated,
    the exorbitant price of a three-ounce cocktail, etc.,
    to your children once they are old enough. It will help them to know that it is ‘fun’ one can pay dearly for. I know of a sixteen-year-old who for giggles laid on the floor while his ‘buddies’ funneled Lord-knows-how-much booze into him – he never got up – alcohol poison killed him right then and there.

    And, sir, uh . . . when is it ‘necessary’ to drink even, say, apple juice, let alone alcoholic beverages?

    Remember, I love you, too

    Through Christ, with Christ, in Christ,

    Pristinus Sapienter

    (wljewell @catholicexchange.com or … yahoo.com)

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