Episode 45 – Dealing with a teen alcohol party“Last night was Halloween and my daughter (age 16, straight A, athlete, good kid) invited some friends over for a Halloween party in the basement. There were about 10 teens, boys and girls, hanging out, playing party games, watching Stranger Things. My husband and I were home and keeping a distant eye on them. We heard happy sounds coming from the basement. One of the parents must have pulled up to our house and texted “I’m here” because two kids came upstairs and said goodbye as they walked out the front door. They reeked of alcohol as they walked past! I ran downstairs and found the kids had snuck one of our bottles of liquor and mixed it with their sodas! They had all been drinking! It was a school night! One girl even drove herself so I had to drive her home, leaving her car at our house. I’m so livid I don’t know what to say. I don’t know what to say to my daughter, to the other parents who trusted me to supervise their kids! My husband doesn’t think it’s a big deal. He says it’s totally normal, and I’m sure it is, but for some reason that is not helping me. I want to do the right thing but I don’t know what that is.” -Ashley Parent Educator Answer: I’m sorry that you feel duped by your daughter and grateful nothing bad happened as a result of your unintentional Halloween party. As I’m sure you are aware there could have been some pretty dire consequences from hosting a teen alcohol party. It sounds like a good time was had, no one was puking or getting in trouble. I can’t tell from your question if the other parents are aware that drinking occurred but it sounds like knowing what to say to them, as well as your daughter, is what you’d like help with. Your daughter needs to experience consequences for her actions but since nothing bad actually happened, you’ll want to impose some consequences of your own. My parent educator answer is for you and your husband to sit down with your daughter when everyone is calm and talk to her using these four steps. Step 1 – Calmly and clearly explain the problem: Give your daughter some factual information why an alcohol party for teens is not allowed. It is against the law to serve alcohol to minors. The reason the drinking age is 21 is that the brain is in an active growing period during the teen years. Whatever substance you introduce during this time can cause the brain to form around it, building a dependency. Around 25, the frontal lobes of the brain are fully formed and therefore is a better age to introduce any mind-altering substance. Explain that an alcohol party for teens have more serious consequences. If one of your friends had driven home intoxicated, they could have lost their license, been arrested, paid a fine, hurt or killed someone else or themselves. The consequences of your simple act of stealing and drinking alcohol could have been tragic. It is also possible that your Dad and I could have been arrested, sued, pay fines, and have this incident permanently on our criminal record. When people drink alcohol, they are more likely to engage in risk-taking behaviors. It impairs judgment and leads to making poor decisions. Step 2 – Explain the real and current problem. Continue talking to her about the current problem and listen to her side of the story. We are very grateful none of those things have happened. So the biggest problem facing us today is that we lost trust in you. Trust is something that takes a long time to build but can be lost in an instant. Even if you apologize and say you will never do this again, we can’t trust that. You will need to earn back our trust by showing us, through actions over time, that you are telling the truth. We would like to understand what was going through your head last night. What motivated this action? What were you thinking and feeling? Please tell us your side of the story so we can get a clearer picture from your perspective. Step 3 – Impose Consequences You can ask her what consequences she thinks would be appropriate or decide on some yourself. Just make sure you and your husband are on the same page. We would like you to write a letter of apology to the parents of each friend who was at our house on Halloween. You don’t need to say they were drinking, as you really don’t know. Just let them know that alcohol was served and you now understand how serious the consequences of this could have been. They trusted you to be a positive influence on their teen and you violated that trust. Your Dad and I will also be calling the parents to let them know what has happened. The liquor cabinet will remain locked from now on and you won’t be allowed to attend or host parties for the remainder of the school year. Depending on your daughter’s version of the story, you may want to restrict access to certain people or revoke driving privileges, things like that. Step 4 – Follow through Make sure you follow through on the consequences you impose or she will learn you don’t mean what you say. You want to trust her again. Model that for her by showing her what trust looks like: meaning what you say and saying what you mean.
Life Coaching Answer:Before you can do ANY of that, you need to give yourself some much needed TLC and compassion. You’ve got a whole bunch of negative emotions spinning around: anger, fear and the big daddy of all sucky emotions….shame. Anger is a quick and easy default emotion for most of us. In its healthiest form, it’s a signal that an injustice has taken place. Your daughter violated your trust and that sucks. Fear is future thinking. Worrying about what could have gone wrong, what the other parents are thinking about you and your daughter. Worrying about things you don’t have control over. You can apologize and inform the other parents, but then you can let it go. Fear and worry are a waste of energy and don’t serve anyone. Shame is the emotion we all dread feeling. Nobody likes feeling shame but we all have it so it’s worth getting to know it. The way I think about it, embarrassment means “I did something wrong”, shame means “I am wrong. Something is wrong with me. I’m a bad person.” Resisting it and running away from shame, will make it last forever. If you can allow it, say hello, and confess it to a compassionate witness, it will go away. Just because shame is common, doesn’t mean it needs to stay. Shame is an emotion that is coming from a thought in your mind. Your daughter snuck alcohol and served to her friends, this doesn’t make you a bad person. But my hunch is you thinking some pretty bad things about yourself: “The other parents are going to think I’m a bad person” “The other parents won’t trust me with their kids.” “I’m untrustworthy and irresponsible.” Something that is coming from a perfectionistic part of your brain that says “I’m either a good person or a bad person”. Your husband doesn’t share this black and white thinking. He’s not worried about what other people will think and he doesn’t see it as a mark against his character. He might be mad that she violated his trust but he’s not making it mean that HE has done anything wrong. It’s very common for parents to enmesh with their kids and feel shame when their child does something wrong. Your daughter made a mistake, but you didn’t. When you recognize that you didn’t do anything wrong, you are a good person and worthy of trust, then it will be much easier to problem solve this situation with your daughter.
Supermom Kryptonite – ShameAccording to the dictionary, “Shame is a painful feeling of humiliation caused by the consciousness of wrong or foolish behavior.” What this means is that shame, this horribly toxic emotion, comes from our beliefs about ourselves, that we are disgraceful and not worthy of compassion. When it sits in us unnoticed, it causes us to act desperately. The reason I presume Ashley is spiraling in shame is because of her level of desperation. Shame causes us to act desperately, craving acceptance because we are unable to give any to ourselves. The most self-destructive behaviors: addiction, violence, bullying, eating disorders, all have an element of shame to them. If Ashley was to try and talk to her daughter, and the other parents, from shame, it would not come out the way she wanted it to. When we act from negative emotion, we get a negative result. The good news is that shame can only live in the dark. Once we shine a compassionate light on it, it cannot survive. Telling your story to a compassionate witness, as Ashley did by writing this question, will help her find compassion for herself. When she can feel like a loving, caring mom, despite her daughter’s alcohol party, she will find the courage to have the necessary conversations from a calm and peaceful place.
Supermom Power Boost: Understanding your shame spiralThere are days when you just feel HORRIBLE for no reason. You get mad at your husband, you complain to your sister, you vent with a girl friend and you take it out on the kids, but it doesn’t go away. You keep beating the same drum, looking to feel better. Chances are you are in a shame spiral. A shame spiral is continually thinking negative thoughts about yourself that isolate you from others. “I’m not worthy” “I’m not good enough” “I’m a bad person”. Complaining and blaming is our attempt to connect, looking for forgiveness and acceptance. Understanding how you act when you are in a shame spiral will boost your energy next time you find yourself in one. Sometimes, just putting a name on something makes a crazy, out of control emotion feel manageable. How do you act when you are in a shame spiral? Mine is a two part response: First, I get mad and blame everyone around me for making me feel bad. Then, once I realize I’m in a shame spiral, I call people that I know love me and ask them to tell me why they like me and why I’m a good person. Shame is a natural human emotion (and a sign that you are not a sociopath) so it’s nothing to be embarrassed about. When we can understand how we act in a shame spiral, and what to do to makes us feel better, we can bring it out of the dark (where it controls us) and move into compassion. When we have empathy and compassion for ourselves, it’s easier to act courageously and in ways that we are proud of.
Quote of the Day:“If you put shame in a petri dish, there are three ingredients it needs to grow exponentially: secrecy, silence and judgement. If you put the same amount of shame in a petri dish and douse it with empathy, it can’t survive.” Brene Brown
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