Ask an Expert: How do I stop buying my teen alcohol, without losing his trust and respect?

Buying alcohol for teenagers

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I have a 15-year-old (almost 16) who has a fascination with alcohol. He seems to feel that he cannot have fun on the weekends without it. His friends also regularly drink and some smoke pot. He drinks bourbon (the drink of choice by his father) and refuses to drink any lower strength alcohol. I made the mistake of buying him some one weekend as he told me if I didn’t buy it he would get someone else to buy it anyway and it would cost him more (he had to pay them to buy it) so now I feel I have created a rod for my own back.   

I do have a good relationship with him and he openly can talk to me about anything and when confronted does tell me the truth. I give him some rope with his freedom but there are restrictions (always let me know where he’s going, what he’s doing and a deadline to be home) which he abides by.  

To date he is not interested in drugs although he did try smoking pot one time when I refused to buy him alcohol.   

My husband and I have been separated for almost five years and still are on good terms. We have the kids ‘week on week off’.  My son seems to play me more than his father, knowing I would be more likely to give in to his demands. If I refuse to buy him it usually ends in an argument and because I don’t want him going behind my back, I cave in. He is aware of the dangers of drugs and alcohol but still seems to glorify it. I don’t know how to deal with this problem without losing his trust and respect.

The most important part of parenting is ‘consistency’. If you make a decision or create rules and consequences it is vital that you stick to what you have said you will do … that doesn’t sound as though this has been happening here! More and more I am meeting parents who are starting to buckle under pressure to provide their teen alcohol under the threat that if they don’t then their child will get it from somewhere else … and for some reason that means the alcohol is going to be more dangerous when obtained in that way!

As you have found out, you only need to do this once and you’ve set a precedent and it’s very difficult to gain back that lost ground.

Giving them everything they want without question also alters the way your child sees you – you may be the parent who puts on the big party where alcohol was tolerated and see yourself as your son’s or daughter’s best friend, but sooner or later that teen is going to want and need a parent. They will need a person who sets boundaries and rules, who provides direction and support. In the short term, giving them what they want (for whatever reason) may seem like a great way to go, but in the long term, it is the parents who say ‘no’ (if that’s what they believe is right) that wins out.

What concerns me is that there are many parents who believe they have a ‘great relationship’ with their son or daughter who worry that if they set rules or follow through with consequences, then that ‘great relationship’ will be jeopardised. Let’s make something very clear here: if your relationship is adversely affected because you actually ‘parent’, then the relationship was not all you thought it was. Adolescents are great at manipulating their parents and one of the things they are highly skilled at is making you feel guilty for doing what you are meant to do.

I think the best thing for you to do is to really look at your son’s behaviour and work out what is concerning you and what rules need to be put into place to keep him as safe as possible and make you feel comfortable when he goes out at night. Once that is done, clearly lay out some basic rules and don’t worry about “losing his trust and respect” – if you truly have a good, positive relationship, setting rules is not going to destroy that. Realistically, he is not yet 16 years old and needs to know what your expectations are around alcohol and other drugs.

Paul Dillon, Drug and Alcohol Research and Training Australia (DARTA), www.darta.net.au

Our Ask an Expert Week panelists are all qualified professionals in their field. However, advice given on The Kids Are All Right website is not a substitute for direct, personal, professional counselling or psychological care, medical care and diagnosis.

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