I grew up in the ’80s. I was the oldest child in a family of three, so I was the first to try testing the boundaries my parents tried to establish. I remember being the quintessential lousy teenager. I lied to my parents about my location and activities with no moral repercussions. They, in turn, grounded me, forbid me to associate with certain friends, took away everything from my car keys to other belongings, and it was all to no good end. Every rule that they tried to uphold became a challenge for me to break. My folks had the “because I said so” mentality of forbidding certain activities. We never had conversations about alcohol, drunk driving, drugs, sex, pregnancy, or any other subject, just stern warnings about the punishment that would be given if a rule was broken. Needless to say, I learned many life lessons the hard way. Looking back, I realize it is a miracle I lived through those years. I vowed to do things differently when I was a parent.
My son was exposed to conversations ranging from sex to drugs by the time he was in 7th grade. I would sometimes initiate these talks when a subject came up on television or a rented movie. I always tried to not be preachy and often used my own poor experiences to reinforce the message I was trying to impart. When he reached 9th grade, I allowed him to come and go as he pleased providing his “chores” were done.. His circle of friends consisted of three young men that were all a year to two years older than him. This made it possible for him to travel because one of the boys was old enough to drive. Most weekends these four boys spent at the oldest boy’s home. I had several conversations with the parents at this home. They were pretty permissive as long as the kids didn’t leave the house. They were allowed to smoke and/or drink beer.
When he was in 11th grade, I allowed my son to drive a car load of teenagers to Chicago for Lollapalooza. He had earned the money himself by holding a full time summer job. He had demonstrated being a responsible driver by not driving under the influence and I knew he would be in contact with me through out the weekend.
My son came to me and told me about the first alcohol party he wanted to attend. I told him about drinking too much and how awful a hangover can be. I told him stories about my classmates and how they had died in alcohol related auto accidents. I did tell him I hoped that he didn’t drink so much that he lost responsibility for himself. I did hope that drinking didn’t become something he liked too much. I asked him to please stay at this house overnight and I did make him promise to not get into a car after consuming alcohol. I prayed that he wouldn’t change his mind when he was under the influence. I did allow him to go. The next day we had another talk about the previous nights events. He told me what had taken place freely and I listened with out judgment.
I allowed my son to rent a condo in Colorado with his three friends for a six week period the summer between junior and senior year. He got a summer job with a catering business out there. They had a ball! I am envious of their experiences rock climbing, fishing, skiing and just having that independence at that age.
My son continued to attend alcohol/bonfire/sleepovers throughout his senior year By the time he entered college he had pretty much lost the interest in “party” weekends. I think it was also a good thing for him to know what alcohol did to him before going to college, so he would be prepared. He graduated with a bachelor’s degree in engineering, obtained a job in his field and lives several hundred miles away from me now. He is grown, but we still have meaningful conversations regarding the choices life offers us. The fact that we can do so openly and without judgment makes me proud of my parenting style. My son learned self-confidence, map reading, money management, and self respect. I learned that the right environment of nurturing and communication helps to bring a wonderful child into adulthood. I chose to inform my child instead of just forbid, and I think it was definitely the right way to go.