Evan Zislis: Soapbox | AspenTimes.com

Evan Zislis: Soapbox

Evan Zislis
The Aspen Times
Aspen CO, Colorado

Teenagers, despite their charmingly underdeveloped brains, are an important part of the holiday season. This year, we should help them celebrate responsibly.

During the holiday season, it’s just a matter of time before the spiked eggnog is flowing like a river of tasty goodness through the eager underage drinkers of this great nation. National studies show that underage drinking (and every other kind of drinking) drastically spikes between Thanksgiving and the New Year. With all that jolly cheer, it’s easy to understand how the young people at the party might misinterpret the holiday season for drinking season.

It’s only natural to invite your keen teens to join the festivities with a tasty spirit or two. But remember, your kids will be watching what the adults are doing ” and deciding for themselves if that is just how people observe the holidays. This year, try to be mindful to send the right message.

It’s okay to talk with your kids about why it’s inappropriate for Uncle Mort to be unconscious on the living room floor with his pants around his ankles. Most adults drink to enjoy the beverage and share a toast ” not necessarily to get hammered and pass out. Go to a party where teens are drinking and you may or may not be surprised to learn that getting drunk is precisely the point. Discussing this with kids helps them to know the difference and identify poor choices when they see them. We want our young people to emulate the sober adults in the room, not the ones who never learned those lessons as teenagers.

Parents often presume that hosting teen parties at their home helps them to keep a watchful eye on what’s going on. After some consideration, this is probably not the effective parenting you had in mind. In addition to liability laws that prosecute the adults of the home, a house full of drinking teenagers is a recipe for holiday disaster. Though your car may be safely parked in the garage, drinking teenagers are at risk for sexual assault, alcohol poisoning and reckless behavior often leading to accidents serious enough for law enforcement and an ambulance. Despite good intentions, nobody wants to be implicated or held liable for some other kid’s accidental overdose, teenage DUI’s or date rape in the guest room.

Like most of us, teens this year will have numerous opportunities to participate in the merriment. So, how should parents handle other teenage parties, especially knowing there may be drugs and alcohol present? My theory is that parents can’t (and shouldn’t) say no forever. Eventually, trust must be developed through consistently reliable outcomes. Consequences for abusing privileges should be clear and upfront.

Want to stay out? Must maintain grades and be home sober at or before curfew ” consistently.

Want to go to the party? Must provide verifiable information about where it is, who and what will be there.

Want to drive the family car? Must prove reliably that decisions are made in line with a no-tolerance family policy for recreational drug and alcohol use.

Random drug testing does not need to be a negative consequence; using it periodically to give teens an opportunity to demonstrate their sobriety can result in a wide variety of positive outcomes, including: cell phones, use of the family car, freedom to attend (pre-approved) parties, later curfews, and not being chained to the radiator in the basement.

Teens who have not been given the opportunity to stretch their wings a bit in high school usually struggle with those lessons in college. Underage binge drinking and excessive substance abuse in the first years of college is a national epidemic ” largely due to the fact that many teens are not given a chance to exercise good judgment before they flee the nest. Parents who wait up for their teens to return home ” and make the obvious effort to check sobriety and talk about how it all went ” help to develop a trusting relationship that is based on good judgment, reliable decision making, and respect for the family policies. Teens who violate those policies know in advance that there are clear sanctions ” with very real implications on the privileges they seek.

Want to learn more about how to talk to your teens about celebrating safely over the holidays? With offices from Aspen to Parachute, YouthZone has been quietly working with families and communities to help raise great kids for over 30 years. For more information call us at (970) 920-5702 or visit us online at http://www.youthzone.com.

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