Oh, yuck. Did you shudder when you read the title of this post? I did, and I wrote it. But that’s why we have to talk about it.
First, let me clarify: this post is not about my kid. As most readers know, my kids are eleven and seven. There are no fuzzy lines for me on this topic right now. If I caught one of my kids taking an alcoholic drink tomorrow, I don’t think the situation would pose much of a dilemma.
But. Someday, in some way, it will be about one of my kids. Because though I wish otherwise, I know that my kids are not perfect. They will not always do exactly as I say. As much as I want them always to be good, one (or maybe both) of them will break an important rule someday. And I will have to deal with it, and it will suck.
Second point of clarification: everybody is okay in the following scenario. Nothing major happened, which is why this is a mere parenting dilemma and not a tragedy or an easy, “You lose all of your privileges for a year” kind of situation.
So here’s the dilemma:
Recently, a friend’s teenage son attended a party at his friend’s house. He later told his parents that alcohol had been present at the party, and that he’d had some. Specifically, he said he’d “taken a sip.” He also reported that he’d hated it.
So, parent, what would you do? Reward your son for telling the truth? Punish him for taking a drink of alcohol at a party? Believe that all he’d had was a sip? Call the friend’s parents?
To me, considering this question at a purely hypothetical stage–for now–it seemed clear that my friend’s son ought to be praised for telling the truth. After that, though, the situation became more muddled in my mind. Would I let go the reported sip of alcohol, a clear breaking of the rules–and the law–if my own son told me the truth? Would that encourage him to break more rules later? (Does the measure then become, “What do you imagine you could never tell your mother?”) Would a stern lecture #174 about drinking suffice? But if I punished him, wouldn’t that just discourage him from being truthful in the future? What about calling the friend’s parents to see where they were in all this? If I did that, would my son be less likely to confide in me in the future about all sorts of bad situations?
(Third point of clarification. Yes, I am a worrywart Jewish mother. Put on a little sweater before you leave the house today; it’s cold outside.)
My friend ultimately praised her son for telling the truth, subjected him to that stern lecture about drinking (I don’t know the exact number, but I am guessing it was in the double digits), forbade him from attending events at the same kid’s house in the future and warned him that consequences would be more severe if he repeated the incident. All went well until he asked a month or so later to go to a party at the same kid’s house, and my friend said no. Her son threw a teen tantrum; she held the line.
So, readers, how would you solve this dilemma? Or, if you’ve already got teenagers and have been down this road, please pass on your experience and wisdom to those of us who have yet to arrive there: how have you handled these types of situations? What worked and what didn’t?