When your kids are little, the sort of role-modelling that’s top-of-mind is a set of basic-skills: courtesy and kindness. There are daily teachings and reminders, and it’s no small job. Guiding and shaping the way they interact with adults and other children is an ongoing task over many years, and if you want them to be kind and polite, that positive reinforcement has to be constant, and your commitment, unwavering. In very general terms, it’s all about building social skills.
Our role as parent-as-influencer changes as they grow up. The fundamentals of parenting – boundary-setting, guidance, provision of meals and a taxi-service, reminders about homework and saying ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ – never change. Slowly but surely, however, other elements are added to the list. Reminders about how creative one can get with a school uniform without getting a detention, use of mobile phones and social media and discussions about who-said-what on facebook become part of the parenting terrain. When the going gets tough, informal consultations with other parents over coffee or on the sporting field side-line help shape our approach.
Once the children become teenagers, the nebulous idea that was lurking in the back of every parent’s mind is bumped up a notch. It’s the inevitable discussion about drinking. And now, if you’ve been watching the media, it’s a conversation everyone seems to be having. It’s a very public conversation.
Role-modelling takes on a whole new meaning when your kids are teenagers. The new paradigm is more like ‘think before you drink’. All parents know kids emulate our behaviour, so once they are teenage, it’s hard not to reconsider your own approach to drinking. Dinner party etiquette, Friday evening drinks, a glass of wine after a hectic day – yep. The kids are counting.
Last week I was thinking about my oldest child’s 18 birthday, which just happens to be tomorrow. I wondered if that’s one home run – getting a child over the ‘legally adult’ line. Feels like a milestone. We’ve talked about the celebration, and settled on a compromise – a small fondue dinner party acknowledging his year in Switzerland on Rotary Youth Exchange.
Our approach to service of alcohol has been discussed, and so has the kids’ attitudes and expectations of drinking in our home. A teacher-friend advised it’s important to talk to parents of the invitees. These days, we know a lot more about potential harms from alcohol, and the deleterious effects of binge-drinking. We all want to keep our kids safe, and provide them with the best opportunities, and messages about safety should be clear in the home. Alcohol is part of that messaging. Outside the home, the messages are hard to miss this week as the media focuses on teenage drinking, and in particular the service of alcohol to minors. There could be legal implications for parents if they serve alcohol to under-age guests, which I have to admit is somewhat daunting. Would the introduction of penalties change behaviour like the introduction of seat-belts and RBTs? I mean parenting behaviour, not teen drinking behaviour. It’s something to keep in mind.
For me, this media focus is a timely-reminder that parents are influencers. Our children are constantly looking to us for guidance, even if they are on the cusp of turning 18. Most parents take their duty-of-care very seriously, and service of alcohol falls under this umbrella. I’m sure there will be plenty of debate about the effectiveness of penalising parents as a way to curb teen drinking, and I’m sure some parents will be anxious about how to manage their child’s 18th birthday. Personally, I just hope when I offer a soft drink to a 17 year old guest, that they remember to say ‘thank you’.
Photograph by Vivien Mitchell