Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Don't tell

Nobody likes a tattletale.

Snitches get stitches.

And wind up in ditches.

At some point in a teenager's life -- and that point is starting to come earlier and earlier it seems -- the probability of drinking and drug experimentation comes into play and they have a decision to make. Will they go along with the crowd or take a step back?

Earbaby recently had to make that decision when she was faced with such a dilemma. Now, even though she no longer goes to my church with any regularity (too many old people), and prefers to go with her dad, because she has friends who go there, she still holds firm to her United Methodist values (don't worry Mom, I'm United Methodist, I don't drink). We started talking early about underage drinking and drug use, specifically marijuana, and about the fact that she would one day be in a situation where she might feel pressured to use.

Although we talked about it early enough I thought, as early as seventh grade she had classmates who had started drinking and using pot. At first it was just acquaintances, and she looked with disdain upon this activity, but soon enough she knew some of the players as friends.

Some kids got into trouble, because they got into some parent's liquor cabinet, got drunk, took pictures, and you know what's next. Yes, they posted it on Facebook, the place where stupidity and indiscretions go for a longer shelf life. When a parent saw it and told the other parents in the group, so many kids were grounded, it was for a short time the talk of school. And that was before they even got into high school.

EB's attendance at an exam school that pulls from every neighborhood in the city exposes her to different cultures, ethnicities and income levels. It also exposes her to the knowledge of bad behavior many parents would like to bury their heads in the sand about. Or worse, laugh it off as youthful shenanigans. But do you really want your 12- and 13-year-old to have the reputation as a pothead? Is it really OK if they drink at your house so they will get used to it and not binge their first weekend in college?

EB grew up knowing our clear rules about drinking. Her dad is a social drinker. I'm a teetotaler. That's a choice I made and I told her why I choose not to ever drink. She, so far, sees no value in it and I've given her the reasons people do use alcohol -- to feel more comfortable in social settings, to be sociable, to have a good time. I've also told her that for some people, having a good time could mean getting blind drunk and doing things they might not do under sober circumstances. And some decisions made while inebriated can become dangerous and/or life-threatening.

I'm not going to say I was objective about drinking. I personally think it's unnecessary. She has heard of her friends getting drunk or high and thinks it's just stupid. That's my girl.

But then there's that middle school/high school parental angst because you don't know your child's friends -- or their parents -- anymore. Enough mishaps have happened that I no longer trust a parent's word as bond. Sometimes they're intentionally misleading, as in not mentioning they will be out of town as they invite your kid over for a sleepover. Sometimes they are evasive, as in leaving a sleepover where your kid is and not coming back and then offering no explanation. Ever.

And sometimes parents just have no clue what their kids are up to even when they're in the house. So when EB went to a sleepover recently, we had several long talks. We talked about drinking, pot use and those parties where kids find whatever is in their parents' medicine cabinet, throw it in a bowl, and take a few, not knowing what they're taking but trying to find a high.

"My friends aren't like that," she said. "They wouldn't be my friends if they were."

While I admired EB's confidence in her friends' characters, I also was 15 once, and happen to know that kids sometimes are totally different outside of parental observation and with older teens around. So I told her that if she was ever in a situation where she felt uncomfortable for any reason, to just call us and we would be there right away to get her. No questions asked and no punishment for her. She was never to get in a car with someone who had been drinking (Does that include Dad? Yes, although after a couple of drinks at dinner, I always get the keys), don't take an open drink from someone, don't come back to a drink you have left, and if you start feeling funny or sick, call and we'll get you home safely. That last part I was thinking of college, but I'm not naive enough to think kids can't get roofied at earlier ages.

With all the eye-rolling and "I know Moms" I wondered if she was paying attention. She was.

The night of her sleepover, I was headed home from work. I was 10 minutes from my door when I got her text "can you come and get me, right now?" I pulled over, texted her back, "text me the address," made a U-turn and headed back out into the night. Thirty minutes later she was getting into my car and I was pulling away.

Turns out the older sister of one of the kids showed up with a boyfriend and a joint in tow. A couple of her friends decided to smoke it with them and EB got uncomfortable. That's not her scene, so she did exactly what she was supposed to and got the heck out of Dodge.

Then the drama began. She was disappointed in the friends, who had an idea why she left, but they were begging her (via text of course) not to tell me why. They wanted to her to lie to me, and she didn't know if she should lie to them and tell them I didn't know. I said, no, you don't have to. Of course, once they knew I knew, they were petrified I would rat them out to their parents.

I didn't. And frankly, I didn't think about it much. Because I don't know their parents. Had EB been with kids whose parents I know, and I would be certain wouldn't shoot the messenger, I may have given it a second thought. But I was more concerned about my daughter getting out of an uncomfortable situation, than snitching on her friends and making EB a target for later. So I told her I had no intention of telling on anyone, but if asked a direct question, I wouldn't lie.

So EB didn't have to worry about being ostracized at school. Some of the kids who had been at the gathering and had left earlier, also were disappointed at the impromptu pot party. And gave it to the kids who took part. EB learned she isn't the only straight arrow in her group.

There were a few lessons learned that night. EB found out she didn't know her friends as well as she thought. She didn't want to judge them, but she was a little disappointed in them. She wasn't pressured into staying somewhere she felt uncomfortable and she knew we were proud of her for knowing how to extract herself with dignity.

Don't tell, they begged her. She didn't. But parents, if you haven't started asking, you may already be too late.

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