When I was fourteen, I attended a cast party after a high school theater production. When I walked into the house in my white Keds (with friendship pins) and my jeans rolled just so, the parents of the hostess directed me to the back patio where the party was being held under the starry spring sky. I was excited to hang with the theater cast and, as scanned the crowd for my friends, I realized something was very wrong.
Several of the older kids were blowing clouds of smoke into the warm air and I saw a few kids with beer cans. Immediately, I realized I was in over my head: I was at my first drinking party and I didn’t know what to do. I remember staring down at the bricks on the patio and wondering if I was willing to take the hit to my reputation by calling my parents to pick me up.
I also remember being stunned that a classmate’s parents were hosting a party where teenagers were drinking underage. But, hey, it was the late 1980s. Things were different back then, right?
Because the scene made me so uncomfortable, I found one of my friends and told her I had thrown up in the bathroom and had to go home. The hostess’ mom called my parents and my dad knew the minute I jumped in the car that I wasn’t at all sick. The guilt was written all over my face: even though I knew I’d done nothing wrong, I felt guilty about tattling to my parents about another parent’s choices.
Suffice it to say, I never attended another party at that house.
I have often thought about the parents who hosted that drinking party over the years and I always find myself coming back to one singular thought: What the actual hell were they thinking?
I’m seriously asking here.
Because, though I did my fair share of underage drinking in college, I have come to realize that I am not the “cool parent.”
I am not the parent who will serve alcohol to my teens and their friends while they are in high school. And I’m not stupid: I know my teens will drink when they are underage in college and I’m sure that will come with its own headaches down the line but, for right now, with a high schooler and middle schooler in our home, I am Team No One Drinks Booze Except Mom and Dad. #notatallsorry
However, my husband sees things differently and we’ve found ourselves in a conundrum over how to handle alcohol with teens in our house.
Recently, on a family trip to the beach, my husband allowed our son to drink half a beer while they sat on our deck late at night. My husband saw it as a rite of passage, the sharing of the first of what will probably be many beers between a father and a son. My son, to his credit, said he didn’t love the taste of beer but that he enjoyed engaging in an “adult” activity. He’s 16 and I’m not going to lie: my husband and I had words later that day.
My husband grew up in a home where the rules about underage drinking were loose and nebulous. While my in-laws didn’t serve their kids beer and wine at dinner outright, my husband can recall times when he and his buddies drank beer at his home on holidays like New Year’s well before they were of legal age.
When I asked my mother in law about it recently, she told me that she and my husband’s father hoped that, with supervision and in occasional small doses, alcohol wouldn’t seem so attractive to my husband and his sisters when they hit their college dorms.
Sure, it a was different time back then. The laws concerning serving booze to minors weren’t as strict and the club scene was glitzy and extravagant. It was the late 80s and people were doing far worse in Studio 54. My husband and his buddies having a beer or two at the age of 17 seemed like harmless fun but, now that we have a teenaged son, I find myself quietly drawing a battle line.
Because I’m not the parent who is okay with my teens drinking underage, even under my supervision.
I don’t subscribe to the notion that my high school kids need to “learn” how to hold their alcohol in the same way they to learn to do their laundry and boil an egg before they leave home.
I don’t need to unwind on a Friday night by sharing a beer with my sixteen-year-old son.
And I don’t believe that young teens have developed the skills to decide how to appropriately utilize alcohol in social situations.
I believe I can teach my teens about responsible behavior with alcohol by modeling good choices in front of them. I want them to see their father and I choosing to limit our consumption before we get sloppy drunk and by discussing the ramifications when we (occasionally) don’t. I want them to see us using ride sharing when we head out with our friends and I want to talk openly with them about the times their father and I misbehaved in college.
But I’m not going to air my drinking stories and dirty laundry over a beer with my high school teens.
My husband and I are still working on finding a way to be on the same page with our teens and alcohol. It’s a work in progress and it’s not easy when you don’t see eye to eye on when it comes to sharing booze with your teen.
For now, we both agree that teens who visit our home will not be served alcohol. We will figure out the rest one day at a time and I pray that I will have the serenity to make the right decisions.