Why Cool Parenting Doesn't Help

Teachable Moments from our May 2016 issue

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By Marybeth Hicks


Q. This question might be filed under, “What are these people thinking?” My high school freshman got a ride home from a recent sporting event from a teammate’s parent. The conversation in the car turned to a high school party that took place a couple of weeks ago where teens were widely known to have been drinking and smoking weed. Rather than express any dismay or concern about this, the parent laughed, joked, and shared stories of his escapades in high school, and essentially said partying was a fun, normal part of growing up. We can’t avoid sharing rides with this family. How should our son respond if this sort of conversation comes up again?


A very wise mother once warned me, “The enemies of your child are the parents of his friends.” At the time I thought, Sheesh, that’s harsh. But my four children are all high school graduates, and during those years I grew to understand exactly what that mom meant.

 

There was a time when parents were generally on the same page. We Baby Boomers could count on the moms and dads of our friends to pretty much echo the values and opinions of our parents, especially when it came to their expectations about appropriate behavior for high schoolers. This expectation was even greater if you sent your kids to a Catholic school, where the assumption of shared values and faith is reasonable.

 

But parents have changed. Many want to be perceived as the “cool parents” who are close to their teenagers. They think they’ll achieve this closeness by revealing their past antics as a teen — or worse, by facilitating risky behavior for their children.

 

Versions of “buddy parents” can range from benignly embarrassing to outright dangerous. We’ve all seen the women who dress like their daughters (though the 50-something version is not a good look), or the dads who pull up to the high school parking lot blasting Journey songs through open windows. These folks are cringe-worthy, to be sure.

 

The parents we need to watch out for are the ones whose lack of judgment becomes an opportunity for our teenagers to engage in high-risk and illegal behaviors. Astonishingly, despite all the known perils and warnings from school administrators, public safety and law enforcement officers, and parent groups, there are parents who believe it’s safer to provide alcohol for their teenagers as long as they collect everyone’s car keys than it is to pressure kids not to drink, based on the theory, “They’re going to do it anyway.”

 

In fact, that theory is not true. Parental advice about teen drinking has a significant impact on teens’ decisions to abstain during high school. Studies reveal that young adults whose parents had the strictest rules against teen drinking exhibited less binge drinking in college.

 

To be sure, a parent who tells a carful of teens that partying is a normal and expected part of growing up is not helping your cause. It’s also not universally true. While statistics show a majority of teens will have experimented with alcohol by age 18, at least 30 percent haven’t. So it’s “everyone,” but it’s not everyone.

 

That dad did, however, offer you a teachable moment. Be sure to have a conversation with your son in which you state your feelings — bluntly — about the inappropriate nature of that parent’s comments. I’d say something like, “Being an adult doesn’t necessarily mean having good judgment. I don’t think that a parent should joke about partying as a teenager, and I certainly don’t think drinking or smoking pot is an expected part of growing up. I appreciate the shared transportation, but just know that we absolutely don’t share those opinions.”

Of course, thanks to that “buddy parent,” you now know whose house party your son should avoid for the rest of high school! 

Marybeth Hicks

Author, columnist, and speaker Marybeth Hicks can be found at marybethhicks.com