The summer between high school ending and college beginning is one of transition. Parenting an 18-year-old who is about to gain tremendous freedom and responsibility, but who is still living under your roof, can be understandably tumultuous. Plus, summertime celebrations and graduation parties are filling your child’s social calendar while increasing his chances of being around drugs and alcohol.
So what are you supposed to do? Can you still give a curfew to someone who is legally an adult? Do you let your child and her friends drink at your house, to at least keep them in a safe environment? How do you balance your child’s need for autonomy and freedom with your responsibilities as a parent?
Some of our Kids in the House experts feel strongly that rules on alcohol and drug use must be enforced, despite your teen being a few weeks away from (relative) independence. But there are ways to do this that can help teens establish their own ability to self-regulate and protect themselves. “I think that there are a lot of helicopter parents out there hovering around their kids, really micromanaging them. And that creates a lot of stress not just between the teen and their parent, but in the entire family system,” says Jerry Weichman, a clinical psychologist practicing in Los Angeles. “I think what parents need to really do is enforce the boundaries, because what teens ultimately need is the freedom to navigate their life. This is how they are going to figure out what life is really about and how to navigate it for themselves. But they need the boundaries. An example, if a kid is going to a party, what a parent should say is look, you can go to a party. You just need to be able to let us know where you are going. You need to respond to us if we call you or text you. You are ready to go or home on time. And you are coming home sober. And if you can do that, you can do what you want (within those parameters).”
Other experts emphasize the need for honest conversations about substance use. The truth is, college-bound teens will be exposed to liquor and drugs eventually, and ignoring that reality isn’t going to help anyone. But that doesn’t mean you can’t help your teenager make healthy choices. “When your child comes to you and says, ‘But everyone is doing it,’ you need to understand that everybody's not, and your kids can help themselves by understanding that,” says Karen Khaleghi, the co-founder of Creative Care Malibu, a substance abuse treatment facility, “As a parent of four, I can tell you I've heard that argument many, many times. And I point out to them, ‘What is so appealing about the kids that are using? Do they look like they're having more fun? Are they cooler? What is it? What's the draw?’ And if you help them to understand what that draw is, you can help them to deal with it in a different way. Is that kid who's falling down drunk really the cool kid? My daughters used to say to their brother, ‘You can have any girlfriend you want if you're the sober kid at the party. Because no girl wants to hang out with the drunk guy on the floor.’ So you can help them to see that there are half the kids that are using, and half the kids that aren't, and understand that they can create their own cool.”
Gary Dodrick, an attorney and father of five, accepts that his kids will drink once they leave for school, so instead of abstinence from alcohol, he teaches moderation. “You a have to accept the reality that when your kids are 18-years-old and going off to college, drinking is a huge part of the college culture and you are not going to stop it, no matter what you try to say or do,” he admits. Instead, he explains, “I asked my kids to do an experiment. I told them to not drink at a college party when everyone else was drinking, and watch. Watch their friends turn to idiots. Watch them make bad decisions and use bad judgment. I asked them to look at the person who over drinks and see if they are really having any fun or if they're just making an idiot of themselves. Particularly with the boys. Teenage boys care about generally one thing - teenage girls. And I explained to them if they don't over drink, if they themselves under control, they're smart, they're funny, they're in control, and those are the ones that are happy and having fun at a party and meeting the nice teenage girls they want to meet. If they over drink, they just make an ass out of themselves. And my kids have repeatedly told me that they've learned to not over drink because of what they've seen when their friends get too drunk.”
Best-selling parenting author Harry Harrison, Jr., agrees. He stresses that parents need to be proactive in discussing alcohol with teens, especially as they go off to college. “Alcoholism on campus is a very big deal,” he warns. “If you are so restrictive you haven't talked about it, then they are going to experiment with it. As parents, we need to confront this and not just hope for the best. We need to tell them, yes, it can feel good, and yes, it is a party lubricant, and yes, you are going to be exposed to it all year round; but if you can think maturely, if you can act like an adult around alcohol, you will graduate. If you act like some idiot student that can't hold their liquor, you will be home.”
Whether you allow your child freedom over the summer or stick to the same rules you’ve always had, realize that they will be out of your immediate control very soon. However you choose to handle it, consider making honest conversations part of your summer plans. “You have to have these frank discussions with your child. They are going to do what they want to do. You need to have these discussions when they are younger, so that by the time they are 18, your morals and values are grounded into them. Will they still experiment? Sure. But it doesn't have to be deadly and it doesn't have to turn into alcohol abuse. In the back of their minds, they are going to go to school with the lessons and values that you send them to school with.”'
*Originally published on HuffPost Parents