Dear David Coleman: My daughter snuck out to meet boys and drank with them until 5am
Question: Late on in the summer I realised my 15-year-old daughter had been taking drink from home to share with her friends. One time was on a sleepover at a friend's house, when they snuck out and met three boys and drank with them until 5am. I was horrified to discover this and was an emotional and physical wreck for about a week. I feel all trust has been broken. She's back at school now and I'm not sure how strict to be. I want to keep her safe but I also don't want her to rebel against an overprotective mammy. Please help; I've lost confidence in my parenting. /b>
David replies: Having strong and clear views about alcohol use is not being overprotective. If anything, you have given your daughter appropriate levels of independence for her age, and she has simply shown that she wasn't ready for those levels of independence, by the mistakes that she has made.
There are a number of issues that seem to me to be relevant to your current family circumstances. Firstly, you may need to review your approaches to alcohol and the messages that you have been giving either explicitly (through discussion) or implicitly (through your attitudes and own behaviour).
A message about abstinence from alcohol, which is backed up by very clear statements from parents about our intolerance of youth drinking and our determination to protect our teenagers from early drinking, is ideal to begin with. However, once we know they have been drinking alcohol, the "genie is out of the bottle" so to speak and it is unrealistic to assume that they will not drink alcohol again.
This is a very tricky stage to negotiate, since our message still needs to be clear that we don't approve of their drinking, and that we expect them not to drink, but we also need to have more open discussion about the concept of keeping safe if drinking alcohol and minding themselves and their friends.
A second issue that seems to arise is the betrayal of trust that you feel. I think this is a blow that almost every parent will feel, and often in the context of our children or teenagers acting in express opposition to our beliefs, values, rules and expectations of them.
It won't matter what promises your daughter makes about her future behaviour, since you can only base your trust on her actions. For example, it matters little if she promises to not drink alcohol, it only matters that she follows through on the promise by not drinking.
It's fair to tell her that you're upset by her behaviour and that it has betrayed your trust in her. It is also fair to expect her to earn back your trust.
However, in order for you and her to be able to do that, you do need to give her back some freedom and some responsibility, after you have reigned it in for a period of time. This allows her to show that she can act responsibly and in line with your family values and expectations.
The risk, in doing that, is that she will make further mistakes. In truth, you may repeat this process of reining back her freedom, then extending it, several times, before she starts making fewer mistakes
That is the nature of a lot of adolescent learning. We can advise them all we like, but invariably they don't learn until they have tried and tested it themselves.
A final issue then relates to your confidence in your parenting. I think you have every reason to be proud of your parenting. Your daughter sounds like a very normal teenager, pushing the boundaries as far as she thinks she will get away with. Your job is simply to offer the resistance, so that she knows the limits remain. Continue to be firm but fair in your dealings with her and you will provide the right kind of nurturing environment in which she can grow.
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