Editor's Note: Carole Townsend, a correspondent for the Daily Post, is writing a blog called "Food for Thought." It is available online at www.gwinnettdailypost.com/townsend.
The new Gwinnett County school year starts up next week. It's weird; we used to plan our lives around the Gwinnett school calendar. Since our youngest graduated high school a couple of years ago, I don't keep up with those dates any longer. I kind of miss it.
A friend of mine has a daughter who's a junior this year, I believe. This friend and I were talking about preparations for the new school year (I miss that so much), and we inevitably got on the subject of trying to parent teenagers in a world that screams for their attention with some mighty scary things.
We first encountered the stuff of parenting nightmares in middle school. Kids brought drugs and alcohol to parties; shoplifting became a big topic of conversation, as it seemed that every week kids got busted for it at the mall. Curfews raised their ugly heads in late middle school, early high school. Children started experimenting with life-changing behaviors.
Now, in my humble opinion, parenting teens is the toughest part of the child rearing cycle. They are straining against the confines established their parents, desperate to be accepted by their peers, resentful of anything and anyone who stands between them and their precious friends. We chose as parents to be honest and forthright with our children about issues that we knew they'd encounter. That means having difficult and sometimes awkward conversations. That means talking to your kids about things from which you'd (naively) always hoped they'd be sheltered. And we always talked to them about drugs, alcohol and the terrible pressure young people feel to partake with their friends.
What I never thought to caution my children about was their friends' parents. I was shocked -- still am -- to learn that some of the parents of our kids' friends allowed, even encouraged, minor children to drink while at their house. No one has the right to allow my minor child (that's under 21 in this context, folks) to consume alcohol. Your child? Go ahead, if that's what you do. Mine? You have absolutely no right. It's illegal, and it's irresponsible. But it also makes you incredibly popular with your kid and his friends, and it's much easier to be the cool "best friend" than it is to be the parent.
I get that kids are going to experiment, and I'd be lying if I said that none of our four did. But for that behavior to be allowed, condoned, by another adult sends a very strong message to a kid. Whether a teen shows it or not, they do look to adults in their lives to model acceptable behavior.
I think that some kids in their late teens are mature enough to be allowed to drink alcohol at home. The thinking behind that theory is that it takes away the mystery, the glamor, of drinking while under the supervision of a parent. Some kids would take that permission and apply it to all of life, all the time: "Well you let me do it then, so why can't I do it anytime I want?" Kids are different. But the only person qualified to determine which type of kid my kid is, is me.
I learned over the years to pick my battles wisely. Curfews changed as each child exhibited responsibility and accountability. We loosened up on the reins when all the fighting and pulling against them abated. I can't tell you how many things we did were, in our girls' opinions, done strictly to embarrass them, ostracize them, or flat-out ruin their lives. And as always, when they exhibited maturity, the embarrassing, humiliating rules relaxed. But on the subject of drugs -- alcohol included -- we remain firm. Statistically, the earlier a person starts using, the more likely they are to become an addict. And kids have a hard enough time making good decisions stone-cold sober. Why pour alcohol into the mix and make it even harder?
Anyway, I'm starting to sound like I'm on a soapbox, aren't I? Let me just say this, parents. Have some respect for the parents of other children. Don't make their job harder than it already is. You set your rules for your kids, and let them set theirs.
What about you? Do you allow your minor child to drink? Do you allow your child's friends to drink at your house?