The young man who lives next door didn’t seem like himself as he rambled to his truck late Saturday morning. His pale complexion and dark encircled eyes were a dead giveaway that the effects of the previous night’s prom festivities were lingering.
“Hey bud, late night?” I quipped at the slowly walking high school senior.
Looking up, he shrugged and cracked an embarrassed smile, “Actually, my parents picked me up early. It was a good thing, by midnight I was in rough shape.”
I nodded, “We’ve all been there.”
As he started toward his truck, I was reminded that, on most days, I’m thankful to have moved next to a family with older children. Watching their experiences helps me think about what I’m in for later on with my five, school-aged kids.
At times, though, my proximity to the teenage years is just too close for comfort – like on Saturday.
I’m not ready – and uncomfortably ending conversations with the kid next door about a prom-induced hangover confirm that fact.
In fact, right away, I began to judge my neighbors. I thought aloud, “You mean his parents willingly picked up their drunk kid at some underage drinking party? Wow!”
The glass house from which I was throwing stones, thankfully, began to crack when I thought of a few of my own teenage indiscretions.
Like the young man living next door, I was a good kid, had good grades and never tried to give my parents much trouble.
Unlike my neighbor, though, I would have never made the call to my folks as a lifeline after a long night of underage partying.
My mind raced with conflicting questions after our interaction:
- Which strategy is better – my neighbor’s or my own?
- Is it right to just assume that a teenager drinks?
- Does encouraging your teenagers to call when drinking encourage them to drink in the first place?
- Are these situations the new normal for parents raising teens?
Published statistics by M.A.D.D. stopped me in my ignorant, thank-goodness-my-kids-are-in-elementary-school tracks:
“Teen alcohol kills 4,700 people per year – that’s more than all illegal drugs combined.”
“Car crashes are the leading cause of death for teens, and about a quarter of those crashes involved an underage drinking driver.”
“Over 40% of all 10th graders drink alcohol.”
As a father of five kids not even to middle school, my mind was blown.
Moreover, the initial judgment of my neighbor’s handling of their teenage son after prom quickly vanished. I think the young man and his parents next door did the right thing.
The reality, as expressed by M.A.D.D.’s data, is that teenagers drink – today, tomorrow and, certainly, in the future. Assuming otherwise may be reckless and dangerous.
Just as misguided may be the thought that having a conversation with your kids about how to get home safely after drinking normalizes, or encourages, underage drinking.
If 40% of high school sophomores are already drinking, alcohol seems to be adequately normalized outside of the confines of the family’s home.
But, like any coach standing on the sidelines, I’m likely downplaying how hard of a game this really is for those currently playing on the field.
Frankly, I’m terrified of the midnight text that likely arrived next door on prom night, saying, “I’m fine…just a few more and I’ll call you. I’ll be home later.”
Even as my neighbor drove away on Saturday morning and I huddled my kids to turn on the sprinkler in the front yard, I was thankful that my parenting labor today is more physically exhausting than mentally taxing.
I’m glad that my kids’ miscues are short-lived and not potentially life-long.
Today, I’ll relish the fact that the only worrisome drinking I’m talking about with my kids is that from the hose as the front yard sprinkler spins.
For now, for me and for my kids, ignorance is bliss. That is not the case for my neighbors, raising a teen.