Max and I had very different childhoods. I was still playing with my Barbies (secretly!) at 16 while he had been partying very hard indeed for some time by that age. I came from a household where taboo subjects stayed taboo, whether alcohol or sex or anything in-between and had a curfew of midnight even at 18; he was treated in a very adult fashion from really very young. Neither approach prevented our tricky teenage moments; I took to lying to my parents, resulting in their cautious approach actually meaning I found myself wandering down a dual carriageway at 4am when I was 16 to get back to where I was supposed to be and Max… well, let’s just say there were a few instances he is probably not too proud of 😆
I’m not proud of my late teens when a series of sad events catapulted me into a period of time when I used alcohol for the worst of reasons – forgetting. Travelling the underground one night, the worse for most of a bottle of Barcardi, is up there with things I would prefer my own daughters never to actually do. I was extremely lucky that a college tutor happened upon me and got me to somewhere safe.
With 4 daughters, 2 of whom are heading into teenagedom now, keeping the lines of communication open is something I think a lot about. So far we’ve been very lucky; we’ve tried to be open parents, with no subjects off limits but tread a line between that and a firm, guiding approach. Of all the parenting fails I fear, becoming a mother/daughter relationship where there is shouting and silence rather than talking and openness is at the top of my list.
Alcohol falls firmly into an area that can trigger this I think. Kids who start to drink socially, in the family or with friends, are a very visible illustration that they are growing up and that is hard, even though it is a joy to watch them grow and develop. Wanting to protect children from anything that could harm them, which alcohol certainly can, is natural but refusing to discuss it and the best way to learn to drink safely may not work.
When I was 15 I spent 10 days on an exchange in Germany with a group of kids from our local comprehensive. In the town, there was a bar for 16 year olds to legally use and at our hosted meal times we were given watered wine. On the nights out, all my group got repeatedly and horrifically drunk, while the German teens looked on in slightly baffled manner. A more open approach there meant alcohol didn’t need to be abused in the same way. While current guidelines do suggest children should have an entirely alcohol free childhood, a more measured and gentle approach to learning to manage alcohol and it’s effects while still under parental guidance did seem sensible.
This fantastic interactive video, which allows you to make choices through a conversation about drinking with a teenage girl, is a brilliant way to think through some of the possibilities of how you handle the “can I have some wine?” question with a emerging adult. My girls and I have spent an hour going through the different options, talking through the effects of different approaches and discussing alcohol from a heap of different angles. It has been really worthwhile. Currently all 4 of mine swear they are “never going to drink alcohol EVER” but I expect that will change and it will be useful to revisit the video, the Drinkaware website and the conversation over the next few years. Perhaps when they ask for wine, I’ll now be able to say “What do you think I should say?” and “Why do you think that is the right answer for me to give?” and see if they come up with an answer I approve of 😉
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