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Timberline Knolls Residential Treatment Center treats women ages 12+ with eating disorders, alcohol & substance abuse, and mood disorders.

15 Dec 2011

Parental Quandaries: Drinking (or Not) in the Basement, Resolved

Posted by Timberline Knolls

by KJ Dell’Antonia, New York Times

The parenting quandary brought up last Friday: When Meredith, a high school junior, tells her mother, Sylvia, about rumors that two boys were drinking at a small club gathering in her basement, should the mother tell the boys’ parents, even though she knows there was no alcohol accessible and she saw nothing?

One of the finest pieces of advice I’ve ever received about parenthood was this: never judge a parent whose children are older than yours. I don’t have teenagers, so I consider questions about teenagers and drinking above my pay grade. Fortunately, you all don’t. That said, this one is a close call. Brenda, whose comment was most “recommended,” said don’t call:

I’m not sure there is anything to report to the parents. Next time, greet each child (in the basement) face to face. You will know if they’ve been drinking. Check in on them all periodically during their visit.

Other favorite advisers agreed. Banty said that Sylvia should not “assume a reasonable parent much like yourself on the other end of that phone call. What you might find instead is a defensive, angry parent.” She didn’t think this was enough to “step into another family’s life and circumstances.” H4x35x0r (some handle, that one) pointed out that there are all kinds of reasons for two high school boys to act goofy at a party with a bunch of girls. He (or she) saw no evidence, and thus, no call.

But others, like A Professor, believed strongly that in the boys’ parents position, you’d want a call.

I do think that she should contact the boys’ parents and lay out exactly what she knows and doesn’t know. Make clear to their parents that she is not calling to complain or get them in trouble, but to share information she would wish to have were the situations reversed. That is something the boys’ parents can then decide what to do with. (If I were the boys’ parents and received such a phone call and had no other reason to suspect my kid was drinking, I would possibly not even bring it up with them — it’s just a set of information I’d file away, in case something similar came up in the future.). But maybe one of the boys’ parents has some other ‘not quite solid’ suspicions that are grounded in reality. The sharing of information will help that situation immensely.

The experts I reached out to were split. Jeff Wolfsberg, a drug education specialist, points out that every time he asks a group of parents “Would you want to know?” the answer is a resounding yes — but the stories of parents being rebuked or scoffed at are endless. He often recommends a check with a school counselor before making a call. Jeremy Schneider, a family therapist, thinks that because Sylvia herself (all names and identifying details in the quandary were changed) saw nothing (and her daughter says they weren’t drinking in the basement), and especially because one of the boys’ parents picked them up from Sylvia’s home, Sylvia shouldn’t call. The experts who thought Sylvia should call both pointed out that Sylvia’s information could confirm another parent’s suspicions or move them to action. “Secrets keep us sick,” says Dr. Kim Dennis from the Timberline Knolls Residential Treatment Center.

What did Sylvia do? She didn’t call. Her gut told her this was a tempest in a teapot, and she went with it. She had made the trips down to the basement that many of you asked about, she had greeted each child at the door and, after an hour, served them pizza upstairs — and she just didn’t think that there was anything bad going on. “If you’d asked me about this before it happened, though, I’d have said I’d call every time,” she told me. “But when I was in the middle of it, with all the different variables — a call just didn’t seem right.” But she did take the opportunity to talk more to Meredith about drinking, as several readers suggested. And next time she’ll pull the O’Doul’s out of the basement fridge.

Tomorrow’s quandary is one for parents of younger kids, and those of us who’ve been there. What do you do when a friend’s or family member’s small child bullies or hits yours?

Read the original article at: http://parenting.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/12/15/parental-quandaries-drinking-or-not-in-the-basement-resolved/

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    Timberline Knolls Residential Treatment Center treats women ages 12+ with eating disorders, alcohol & substance abuse, and mood disorders.