Parental peer pressure and alcohol: What if your child says "You're the only one who does that"?

'Peer pressure' is an interesting concept and a term that gets bandied around regularly when it comes to young people and alcohol and other drugs. What truly fascinates me about this area is the inability of some parents to see that it is often they and not their child who are likely to buckle to peer pressure. Time and time again I meet parents who are heavily influenced (or pressured) in this area by what they believe other parents are (or may be) doing (usually because of what their child is telling them). Without a doubt, 'parental peer pressure' is mighty powerful and many people have no idea how to deal with it effectively!

I've been through some emails from parents over the years and here are just a few quotes that clearly show that some families are experiencing great pressure in this area:
  • "It seems like I'm the only parent in my child's year group that doesn't allow my child to drink. It's getting more difficult to say 'no' with each weekend that goes by."
  • "I certainly don't want her to drink but everyone else in her year appears to be able to ... I'm now feeling like I'm going to start affecting her social life. I don't want her to not be invited to things because of my rules." 
  • "When I called the house to find out more about the party I was told by the mother that I was the only one who had called and that I should loosen up a little and not to worry! She said that the kids were 16 or 17 and that drinking at teen parties was normal and there was nothing she or I could do about it."
  • "I'm constantly being told by my son that I'm the only one who calls other parents to find out what's going on at parties and even my best friend (who I've known since I was in Year 1 and always said to me that she would stick with me around the whole alcohol and parties thing when it came to our children who are the same age) said that I'm out on my own when it comes to saying 'no' to my 16-year-old around alcohol."
I get it - 'sticking to your guns' around alcohol and teenage parties is going to be tough! This is a difficult issue for many parents of teenagers, with some people believing that alcohol consumption is simply a 'rite of passage' into adulthood and that 'everyone will go through that stage' at some time or other. Your child is bound to tell you that you are 'the only parent who won't let them take alcohol' - let's make it clear that that is the norm - that's what kids do, tell untruths to get what they want! Whatever your decision (and let's make it perfectly clear - it is your decision, no-one can tell you what to do with your child), you need to make sure you make it based on good quality information and not pressure from your child and their friends, and certainly not other parents trying to make you feel bad about your efforts to keep your child as safe as possible.

Every parent wants their child to 'fit in'. The teen years are tough and adolescents can be extremely cruel - no-one wants their child to be socially excluded and I understand parents who do everything they can to ensure that their loved ones get invited to social gatherings and that those difficult years are made as easy to navigate through as possible. This is the 'good place' that I think most 'parental peer pressure' comes from - it's not that most parents want to do what they believe other parents are doing so that they fit in (although I certainly go to some schools where that happens - I'm sure some people actually choose the school their kids go to for future networking potential!), it's just that they don't want their child to be socially excluded. Sure, for some, it even goes a bit further than that and becomes about trying to ensure popularity (these are usually the parents who were in the 'popular group' themselves and are desperate to ensure that their children have the same experience - very scary people!) but for most it's just about attempting to make sure that the teen years aren't lonely ones ...

The most important thing to remember about this pressure is that it is all built upon the belief that 'everyone else does it', something I believe just isn't true. Sure, there are parents who put on parties and provide alcohol to teens, but they are now certainly in the minority. Others 'turn a blind-eye' to teen drinking in their house or their child having a couple of cans at a party on a Saturday night but I really do believe that if you sat down with a group of parents and asked them whether they felt comfortable with their 15 or 16-year-old drinking at a teenage party or gathering the response would be an overwhelming 'no'. The key to success in this area is to get parents to talk and tell each other about how they feel when it comes to this issue but that's not easy and, unfortunately, it's becoming more and more difficult as time goes on ...

Teens are great at 'siloing' their parents - manoeuvring them into a place where they will not talk to others to check up on whether what they are telling you is true or not. They do it by saying that 'no-one else does that' or 'you're the only one who does' depending on the situation. They tell you things and ensure that their friends are there to back them up with their wild claims about what everyone else is doing and of course, they always have the ultimate strategy which is to tell you that if you don't let them do something they really want to do then 'you will shame them forever' and 'that you will ruin their life'! I can't imagine what it must be like for a parent to have the person they love the most in world look them in the eye and tell them that they hate them and that they're destroying their life - it must be heartbreaking.

There are no easy answers but here some simple tips to help parents with this complex issue:
  • Challenge ridiculous statements: If your child tells you that you are the 'only Mum who won't provide alcohol' - make sure you do not let this statement go unchallenged. Most parents do not support providing alcohol to take to underage parties. If your teenager insists that this is the truth, let them provide some proof. Give them a piece of paper and a pen and ask them to supply names and phone numbers of five parents who do provide alcohol and tell them that you're going to call them up and check if what they've said is actually true! 
  • Talk to other parents: Make sure other parents know your views on the subject of supplying alcohol to teenagers who are underage. If you do not believe that it is appropriate to provide your child with alcohol for a party, you will be most probably be pleasantly surprised as to how many parents agree with your stance. If parents have differing viewpoints that is their right, but let them know your reasons and make it clear that you do not want your child to drink at this stage in their life.
  • Link up with other like-minded parents: As much as it may seem as though you are all alone on a little island somewhere when it comes to this area, there will be others who do not feel comfortable allowing their child to drink alcohol at a teenage party (you only have to come to one of my Parent Information Evenings to see that large numbers of these people really do exist). When you meet a like-minded parent, grab them, hold onto them and keep them close and the next time your child says - "You're the only one", you can turn around and say, "Well, Mrs Jones doesn't either - do you want to talk to her?"
As I said earlier, I get it - this is tough! I totally understand why some parents buckle to peer pressure and allow their teen to do something they don't feel entirely comfortable about ... we don't only see it in the alcohol and other drug area, it happens with clothing (e.g., permitting adult-style, highly sexualised clothing to be worn by the very young), access to movies and video games (e.g., primary school-aged children watching M-rated movies containing violence and sex) and of course social media and cybersafety (e.g., allowing their child to have Instagram and Snapchat accounts way before they're legally meant to, having computers, smartphones and the like in their bedrooms). Parents are constantly being told by their children that everyone else is allowed to take part in particular behaviours and they're the only ones that aren't - that's hard. Some parents are even ridiculed by others for having old-fashioned ideas and warned that if they don't keep up with the times they will lose their relationship with their child. That is simply shameful!

But is 'sticking to your guns' really worth all the time, energy and heartache? Damn right it is! If holding true to what you believe is right increases the chance of keeping your child just that little bit safer through adolescence and beyond, it's worth all that and much, much more!


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