How do I rein in the freedom I’ve given my 15 year old? She has come home drunk a few times and I don’t know how to address it.
– Bummed Buzzkill
We live in a time where saying no and setting limits can be conflated with being a “mean parent.” Nothing could be further from the truth.
When your child is making poor choices, particularly ones that are creating a risk to her well-being, it’s your responsibility to set her straight. It sounds like you’ve given your daughter a lot of autonomy—which is great—but if she’s taking advantage of that freedom, you’re well within your right to take some of it away.
Think of it this way: Never once have I met a functional adult who says, “I wish my parents had let me get drunker in high school.” Sure, many of us have an embarrassing party story or two, but there’s a reason we don’t hand teens a liquor license with their learner’s permit. Teens are notorious binge drinkers, which, according to the CDC, results in hundreds of thousands of ER visits each year.
Here’s my advice: Set boundaries. Maybe start with an earlier curfew or a regular check-in phone call. You don’t have to go from 0 to Breathalyzer Mom overnight, but you can set limits until she’s proven she can make the right call on her own.
Setting a boundary is about much more than simply saying no. Teens may complain about rules, but young people need limits in order to feel stable and secure in an otherwise chaotic world. After all, if anything goes, there are no dependable truths that form a container in which she can safely figure out who she is. For example, it’s commonly understood that when there are no limits on teens, they often “act out,” almost as if to invite adults to assert their authority.
It’s a confusing moment to be sure, because on the one hand, it’s her job to resist authority and separate from you. But that doesn’t mean you should step aside and give her the steering wheel. Indeed this is one of the hardest things about parenting a teen: conflict over rules and independence become a regular occurrence, and you’ve got to decide where to loosen the reins and where to tighten them.
If that feels terrifying, remember what it is you’re saying no to. In this instance, you’re saying no to a culture that convinces teens the only way to socialize, fit in and have fun is to do so under the influence. Remember, too, that boundary setting is a way to assert your values as a parent; saying no sends a message to your kids about what you stand for as a family.
You’re going to get eye rolls, sure, and you might lose your “cool mom” card. But in the end, she will be grateful.
Think of all of the moments your parents drove you crazy by saying no to you, but which you are now grateful to them for. That’s you now! Be strong, speak up and know we’re all right behind you (and, for what it’s worth, we know you’re right).
Best of luck.