Teaching Your Teen How To Party

Teenagers are an interesting group of individuals. Not just in their ability to frustrate parents but also in their requirement to take risks. One of my favourite authors and experts in the area of brain development and parenting strategies is Dr. Daniel Siegel. He has authored many great books and his articles and videos are plastered all over the internet. He has said:


“Part of what allows the adolescent to get ready to leave home is remodeling..” “Dopamine levels at baseline are lower and the dopamine release amounts are higher”


So what does that mean? Well, teenagers not only need to take risks to prepare them for life, but their brains are literally wired to reward them at their riskiest. Our job as parents is to give our children a knowledge base and the skills to adequately assess each risk that they face. Although, as a parent, we may really want to take our children off to a desert island and keep them there during this exhausting stage of life, we would be doing them a great disservice and their brains would not be developed to take on adult life.


There is another very unique difference between teenagers and adults and it’s in the way they socialize…


Andrew Field (RSW, Family Counselling Centre in Saskatoon) told me that teenagers tend to socialize by age group and and are different than adults who usually come together through a common  interest. I didn’t quite recognize this fact until I thought back to the odd (I wasn’t the most popular)  high school house or pit party that I attended. Most of those parties brought out every 15-18 year old in the neighbourhood, who was either allowed out or had the ability to sneak out of their house. From honor roll students to those recently released from a Youth detention centre, everyone was there.  It’s the same for high school students today.


Now, how do drugs and alcohol factor into all of this? High school students, today, have access.. and by access, I simply mean access to more...of everything. All of the good and all of the dangerous. Unfortunately, access or attempting to limit it, is what Law Enforcement worldwide has focused on when trying to protect society from illicit drugs. Not only has this attempt failed miserably (there are more drugs available today than ever before) but also the lack of access, does not eliminate addiction, it simply guides the substance or action that an individual is addicted to (More on this in a future post).


I was recently quoted by the CBC, as saying “any grade 9 student is two phone calls away from any drug that you could think of”. I made this statement while promoting a drug education program for high school students and their parents. After the program, I was approached by a grade 12 student who threw this statement back in my face, and politely called me a liar. He went on to say that they are ONE phone call away from any drug that I could think of. 


Now let’s go back to that house party we were talking about. Based on Health Canada’s 2013 stats, if those polled chose to use their substances on the same day, and 50 of them aged 15-17 years old were invited to the same party, this is what they would be doing:

  •  34 would be drinking alcohol, 16 wouldn’t.
  • 3 would be smoking cigarettes, 47 wouldn’t.
  • 11 would be smoking marihuana, 39 wouldn’t.
  • 2 Youth might be using harder drugs, 48 wouldn't. I say might because less than 1% reported using ecstasy, cocaine, hallucinogens or methamphetamine. 

Note: The examples above are not isolated groups. Individuals could be part of none, one or more than one of the categories. For example, one youth may be drinking alcohol, smoking marihuana and using harder drugs.


Now that we are educated on the numbers, why is it that we are surprised when our son or daughter comes home and tells us that there was alcohol or marihuana at their party? We shouldn't be. In fact, we should be surprised if there wasn't. 


If your son or daughter comes home from a party sober, and tells you that there was alcohol and marihuana at the party, you are a rockstar parent! It means that you have clearly set your expectations, given your child the mental ability to make informed decisions and have healthy attachment with them that they feel safe telling you. In fairness, most parents are rockstars because we can only parent to the best of our own abilities based on our own life experiences.  However, what's the worst thing we could do if our kid comes home sober and tells us about the "substances" at the party? Yell, act like you are disappointed that they would even go to a party like that, or punish them. By doing anything other than praising their healthy decisions, you are showing them that you are no longer a safe person to confide in and you are incentivizing them to lie to you. Remember, they are forced to socialize by age and not interest. Socializing is one of the most important past times of our teens and it wouldn't be an option for them to stop.


Am I saying, let your teen drink, smoke, snort and be merry? Heck no! All that needs to occur is for your family to develop their rules and expectations with clear consequences. Here are a few examples of what you should consider and then inform your teen:

  • Curfew
  • Alcohol: complete abstinence or is there an acceptable level? Call for rides or are they on their own if they choose to drink? 
  • The absolute no's: Any form of drug use? Drinking hard alcohol? Having more than X amount of drinks? Drinking and driving? Drug paraphernalia in the house? Alcohol in their vehicle?


Keep in mind that your teenager will most likely break some of these rules. However, as long as the consequences are clearly defined, then no trust in you will be lost.


In order for the "remodeling" to occur that Dr. Siegel talks about is for teens to learn through their risky behaviour. This means that should you take away a natural consequence of their actions, you could be doing them a huge disservice and may cause them to have deeper rooted issues as they mature into adulthood. In my career, I have seen a lot of parents remove some of these consequences and can't help but think it is a huge mistake. I've seen parents pay for their child's liquor tickets, ignore the evidence that the police have shown them and make attempts to get them off rather than guide their sentences on their criminal charges (usually by paying for a very expensive lawyer). I have seen multiple parents pay off their kids drug debt and even drive them to their drug dealers house to pick up. You may read this and think that this seems insane now but I know that these parents believed they were acting in the best interest of their kids and out of love. Parenting someone who is addicted is an exhausting task and often times either the "I've tried everything else, so why not" or "if I just do this then it will all be over" factor comes into play.


Open dialog and clear expectations is key. Our goal is not to protect our teens from making mistakes, it's merely to give them the tools to choose the safest and most appropriate mistakes to make. The term "tough love" has been coined as taking a hard nosed approach to parenting but really tough love is standing by supportively as we watch our children take risks, make mistakes, learn and grow without simply wearing their mistakes for them, which would be "easy love".


We will go into depth next post about what to do if your child started using a substance. However, I will leave you with this note: The substance itself plays a role in addiction but is not the cause. Look to the modern experts on addiction to determine the root issue. Gabor Mate talks about the earliest years in child development. Gordon Neufeld talks about attachment to care givers. Prof. Bruce Alexander talks about isolation. Dr. Bruce Perry talks about trauma. The important thing to know is that if you can identify the root cause and you have a willing participant, addiction will be overcome.