There are a series of subtle changes that begin to emerge in your pre-teen, marking the official end of childhood and the advance to the teenage years.
These behaviours generally include an increase in the eye-roll count, less verbal exchange and a whole new vocabulary parents must contend with: bae, whatevs, and YOLO-as-verb.
And when it comes to having the important conversations with your teen about drinking, their strange behaviour can make it tough to get through to them – but don’t let that stop you.
But the good news is, it’s not impossible. Here’s an introduction to the most common teen categories – and how to communicate with them.
“How was school honey?”
“Did you enjoy soccer training today?”
Ok. If this exchange is becoming the dominant communication style with your teen, then welcome to The Mute. The teen Mute is incapable of forming full sentences, which may drain the brain or energies of the teen. (These energy reserves are important for digital communication with friends, duh).
Communication strategy: The best strategy for the teen Mute is to subtly wait for any windows of opportunity, which means the teen has said something to you or in your general direction, and then engage quickly.
The trick here is not to appear too eager, or you will cause an eye-roll. Be on the lookout for spaces and places with fewer distractions, such as the car, kitchen or the laundry, where you’ll be doing things but they won’t.
You may feel your mute child isn’t responsive to your prattle, but be sure their minds are working overtime. Mind the rookie error of loading the drinking conversation into one big pep talk though. That’s not going to work for this wary species. Coming on too heavy will activate the aforementioned eye-roll. Break it down into key themes such as being smart about your choices, looking after your mates and how to recognise the effects of alcohol.
The Rebel is identifiable by the quirk of the Opposite Action-Reaction default setting. That is, whatever you would like your teen to do, they would like to do the opposite.
“Do you mind putting that away please?” is just an invitation for a response such as “Yes. I do mind.” Ok, excellent. The teen Rebel will also look for any boundaries in their life, in order to push them. This may include but is not limited to: school rules, uniforms, chores, punctuality and all simple requests. The teen Rebel thrives on defiance and witty comebacks, LOL.
Communication strategy: To talk to the teen Rebel about serious teen issues then, one must employ a similar tactic. Sarcasm. Start your sentence with “yeah, as if you would ever do that” and then insert risky behaviour. This will stump the Rebel teen, who will accidentally engage in conversation with you by immediately disagreeing. #winning.
The great news is that if you’ve got a rebel, chances are you’ve got a smart kid there. Congratulations, that’s something you can work with. Show you’re smart too and be well researched in what’s trending in their social networks. Bring up alcohol-related examples and bathe in their rebellious defiant wisdom. The key then is to suspend your own judgment and be prepared to hear things you may not want to. Just remember it’s a work-in-progress and opening the dialogue is like finding a pulse when doing first aid. We can work with that.
The Drama Queen.
Brace yourselves for this one. And then simultaneously cast your mind back to the toddler years. Because the teen Drama Queen has many similarities to a toddler who is facing a crisis of epic proportions – only teen Drama Queens are generally bigger, hairier and louder, and involve you ruining everything.
It usually starts with a guttural scream: “Muuum?/Daaad?” and then you can expect a few “I hate you”s, punctuated by door slams. “You have ruined my life/You don’t understand me/I hate this family” may also make an appearance. Good times.
Communication strategy: The keys to communicating with the Drama Queen are timing and tone. Do not attempt to engage an enraged Drama Queen. Wait patiently until the tide has turned, and then act cool and casual, keeping your tone at all time free from drama. Proceed with caution. Inject what aspect of alcohol safety you want to discuss into the conversation and like the Rebel, sit back and be prepared to listen.
The Golden Child.
Ah, the Golden Child. This is the teen who has worked out quickly that keeping mum and dad happy is the path of least resistance, and usually the same path that leads to getting what they want.
A generally pleasant teen, the only thing to watch here is the degree to which The Golden Child has everyone wrapped around his or her little finger…
Communication strategy: Talking to the Golden Child about drinking is less tricky, because they will switch into Student of the Week mode and lap it all up. But you need to ensure they are really listening and thinking, and not just saying what you want them to say.
So ask them lots of open-ended questions. What would you do if someone offered you a drink? Have you ever felt pressure to drink when you haven’t wanted to? Keep things light and general. And don’t forget to praise them afterwards.
The final category is the ‘you never know what you will encounter’ variety. Pleasant and agreeable one moment, this teen can suddenly become The Mute. In fact, they can display elements of all other categories in any one day. A bit like The Divergent of teens, they master all and can tanty it up with the best of the Drama Queens, or push you to the edge with their rebellious streak, only to happily end the day as The Golden Child once more. It’s exhausting, but it does keep you on your toes.
Communication strategy: Talking to the Shape-shifter teen requires mastery of all of the above skill-sets. Timing, tone, opportunity, sarcasm, light-heartedness – you many need to call on any or all of these skills to have a meaningful conversation with your teen about topics that are important as they grow up.
But no matter what type of teen you have, it’s important to be aware that despite what they say (or don’t say), your teen is watching you, observing you and still learning from your example, every day – remember, you are their positive role model. Let them know that you’re always there to help them even if they are unsure of what to do.
And if all else fails? Start surfing the web, there are plenty of resources out there to help you talk to your teen about alcohol and staying safe. And if you don’t know where to begin, the DrinkWise website is a great place to start.
Parents – stay strong. You’ve got this.
So what type of a teen were you? Or what category does your teen fall under?
This content was originally published on Mamamia.com.au and is republished here with full permission.
DrinkWise - Kids and Alcohol Don't Mix brochure
The following resources may help you to plan to have a conversation about alcohol with your teenager:
- It’s okay to say nay
- Talking to your teen about alcohol
- Developing a consistent approach to teen drinking with your partner
- Setting family rules around alcohol
- Is your drinking influencing your kids?
- DrinkWise campaigns for parents
- Alcohol and your health – DrinkWise body health tool
- Dr Andrew Rochford – Kids and Alcohol video
- Dr Andrew Rochford – Delaying underage teenage drinking