Question: My 13-year-old son has come home from friend’s houses with alcohol on his breath a few too many times. My husband says that a drink here and there is nothing to worry about. My husband is not an alcoholic; he hardly ever gets drunk although he has a glass or two of wine to help him fall asleep every evening. We’ve talked to our son about drugs and alcohol, and we live in a good school district, but his friends seem to have lots of access to adult beverages. I’m so worried about my son, I haven’t been sleeping well. Please advise!
Anne – Philadelphia, PA
Answer: Dear Anne,
In North America we have age of majority. In Canada, most provinces are 19, some are 18 and in the U.S it is 21. Drinking under age is against the law. Regardless of what your personal views are on minor’s drinking. If a 13-year-old were to be caught by police, it is a chargeable offense. The parents of your son’s friends are liable in these situations too. Because your son is so young, the parents’ of these friends would probably be charged in lieu of your son. Either way, who wants to get involved in that?
When you say he comes home with alcohol on his breath – is he drunk? And if it is happening a few too many times, you probably need to consider whether or not your son has an alcohol problem. If he does, he needs help! Statistics show that there is an increased risk for alcoholism the younger a person starts drinking (varies by culture).
The other issues I wonder about is whether he is drinking in the presence of these friends’ parents? Or are the parents not home? I would suggest asking your son what the situation is over at his friends’ houses. Have you tried calling these parents and having a discussion with them? – perhaps they are not aware that their son and his friends are drinking and could put measures in their house that prevents it from happening. Perhaps they do know and don’t care, which is ultimately putting your son at risk! Then you need to decide if you want your child going there anymore.
Even though you say your husband doesn’t get drunk – using any substance to mask or deal with something like pain, or anxiety or not sleeping can be problematic. The issue is that usually the body builds up a tolerance – so when two glasses of wine don’t help him fall asleep anymore it becomes three, then four etc. Before you know it, you have created a problem. Just be careful with that one.
If your son is aware that your husband only drinks to “fall asleep” you are communicating the need for substances outside of one’s self to help one cope. Maybe your son is drinking because he is dealing with some issue like anxiety, or social incompetence, or peer pressure where he thinks he will only be liked if he goes along with his friends and drinks.
If Dad is saying it’s no big deal to have a drink “now and then” — your son has just been given permission to drink — even though you don’t think it’s right, a child will usually go with the parent who is going to let him do something! You and your husband have to come to some kind of agreement on this issue and stay on same page when dealing with your son.
Talk to your son about how he is feeling. Refrain from lecturing about drugs and alcohol – you’ve tried that and obviously it had no benefit. Forget about threatening to send him to a Pennsylvania alcohol withdrawal center or any similar facility anywhere else. Let your son know that you are there for him, no matter what. You may have to start imposing restrictions on his time away from home until you can get this sorted out and build back trust.
Answer by Dyan Eybergen, author of Out of the Mouths of Babes: Parenting from a Child’s Perspective. Dyan, a pediatric psychiatric nurse, has more than ten years experience working as a therapist and parent educator.
Dyan and her family were guests on the cable television show “For Kids Sake”, along with parenting expert Barbara Coloroso. Eybergen resides in St. Albert, Alberta, with her husband and three sons.