Teenage drinking is often a real concern for parents. Living in a foreign country with relaxed drinking age limits, you have to confront the reality that your teenager might be consuming alcohol at a much younger age than in your home country.
A number of factors may underlie a country’s rules on teenager drinking: social acceptance, cultural mores, and the role of public transportation, to name a few. You have to examine your own cultural and moral attitudes on how to deal with this potential conflict.
Answering Your Child’s Call for Help
A few months ago, my daughter, Jessica, and her boyfriend, Tobi, called me in the middle of the night to help a drunk and disgraced Sarah (not her real name) get home safely. They didn’t want to take the bus for fear that Sarah would get sick and have them thrown off and onto the street.
On my drive across town, I pondered how I would handle the problem if I were a teenager again. Back in my day, I would not have called my parents for sure. In America where the drinking age is 21, my parents would have blamed the dumb teenagers for their foolishness and let them suffer the consequences.
Germans parents are far more lenient. In Germany, where I live, the drinking age is 16. Teenage drinking is prevalent. Some parents see this as perfectly normal, a right of passage so to speak.
Acknowledging Your Child’s Maturity
Pride and relief washed over me when I realized that Jessica took responsibility to call an adult in a situation that she felt was getting out of control. She overcame shame, exhibiting true maturity.
What really impressed me was the concern that Jessica and Tobi showed Sarah as they carefully guided her into the back seat of my car all the while caressing her back, assuring her that she’ll arrive home safely. Jessica put Sarah’s hair in a ponytail in case she got sick.
Witnessing Your Child’s Strengths and Skills
As if on queue, she did. Tobi and Jessica jumped into action like two well-trained first-aid workers.
Astutely, Jessica procured Sarah’s house keys. Quick thinking, she strategically arranged to have a girlfriend to meet us at Sarah’s house. They made a tactical plan to slip Sarah inside without disturbing her parents.
I pulled up to Sarah’s house at the same time her parents arrived on the scene. Learning that his daughter was intoxicated, Sarah's father affectionately put his arms around her demonstrating such compassion, love and understanding. Her mother thanked me kindly for delivering her daughter home safely.
Questioning Your Cultural Norms
I had to ask myself what I would have done in that situation? Would I have been so loving and understanding? Thinking of my own cultural perspective on teenage drunkenness, I might have been more stern, annoyed and disappointed in my child’s inebriation.
Opening Up to the Learning
The lesson I learned from Sarah’s parents was about loving your child under all circumstances. They know she is a good, loving daughter and normally a responsible young adult. She tried alcohol but her lightweight body couldn’t cope. In her parents eyes she did no wrong and ventured into the realm of teenager partying and experimenting.
Letting Go and Trusting
More importantly, I leaned to trust my daughter. She is intelligent, well organized and intuitive as she wades through life. I think that all the international moves and travelling have taught her to be flexible and take control of her circumstances.
Like many foreign parents living here, I have to adjust my cultural point of view on many issues. I have to surrender and accept situations that I cannot change. I have to let go and trust.
Understanding the Differences
This is not an easy concept for some foreigners abroad. For some nationalities and cultures, drinking is forbidden. Some countries consider wine an epicurean delight while others ban it altogether
I am not a fan of teenage drinking. I dread the thought of having to deal with my own kids coming home intoxicated. I can only hope that I’d act calmly and not be so harsh as my parents would’ve been.
Taking Sage Advice
When it comes to untying the apron strings of my own cultural confines, I am taking the sage advice from my Canadian friend and expat Shelley Wilson:
“It's scary, but you just got to trust her and all that you have ingrained in her over the years that she will make wise decisions for herself.”
Over To You
What is your experience or opinion on this topic? Please drop me a line in the comment box below. I’d love to hear from you.