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Operation Enough - I Have Your Grandson. He's Drinking in a Park

By Yvette Vignando - 9th November 2010

The term 'Operation Enough' caught my eye as I scanned this morning's news. Police at the St Marys Local Area Command in NSW launched a campaign targeting young people involved in underage drinking and criminal behaviour. But what really caught my eye was the media release and reports saying "In a new tactic by police, a parent of each and every child was 'phoned and asked to collect their children."

This weekend 55 children between the ages of 13 and 17 were found unsupervised on the streets. 53 parents came to collect their kids. The police say "There was not one single parent who knew where their child was or what they were doing."

I was kind of surprised to read that it was a new tactic by police to call children's parents to collect their children - what were they doing before? I'm curious. Perhaps the resources are not usually available to do this and police have to just send kids 'on their way'?

Having spent many years working with police when I was a lawyer running criminal prosecutions, I know that most police do amazing work in the most challenging of circumstances. And if you look at this short video of Chief Inspector Molloy doing a fabulous job explaining to teens why they should not be out drinking in parks - you'll know exactly what I mean. Look out for the conversation where he has to call a grandmother to say "I've got your young grandson here drinking in a park",  and the part where he says "We just want parents to know what their kids are doing." Seems a reasonable expectation to me.

I live a very middle class lifestyle so please let's not pretend that this is a problem of Sydney's outer suburbs. I see the same problems in and around my house and in the families of friends and acquaintances. And I think the solution lies in us all learning skills around communication and expectations of teenagers. As a parent of a teenager, a tween and a primary school child, I want to think about the best way of reducing the risk that our kids will end up talking to a police officer in a park.

Here's what I know about some parents:

  • They allow their young teenagers to drink at home and at parties.
  • They are supplying alcohol to their younger and older children to take to parks and parties.
  • They do not ask what time parties start and finish and do not take the time to introduce themselves or talk to the parents of the friend whose party or house their child (is supposed)  to be at.
  • They find it difficult if not impossible to say 'no' to their younger or older teenager.
  • Their relationship with their teenager is so difficult and challenging that they can't work out how to stop their teenage child going out to parks and parties without permission.

I decided to speak to Maria Fuentes who blogs for this website. Maria is a psychologist who frequently works with parents and their teenagers. She agreed with me that this isn't a problem confined to areas with particular socio-economic features. Operation Enough might be targeting St Marys but if the resources were available, it would be required all over Sydney.

Here are some ideas for parents who are about to be parenting teenagers or who are perhaps already in the middle of that stage.

Set up boundaries and expectations for your child about socialising and drinking early and throughout childhood.

Parents should be aware of their own drinking habits and conversations about drinking. If you regularly drink excessive amounts of alcohol and if you joke about it, you're going to have difficulty establishing boundaries and expectations for your teens' consumption of alcohol. "If you're regularly drinking a bottle of wine and some beers with dinner each night, you can't expect your child not to pick up on this habit." noted Maria.

Think about how and why you may not be communicating boundaries and expectations to your young teenager. Maria pointed out that "During the teenage years, many parents feel rejected; they feel their teenager is walking away from them. So parents try to hold on to their kids one way or the other by becoming a little more friendly with them than they should be - you are not there to be their friend - you're there to be understanding and loving but also to set up expectations."

Don't get sucked into a negotiation with your teenager - for example if your child asks for a small amouint of vodka to take to a party or to the park so they can "control" their drinking - "that's a lot of responsibility you are placing on them and the community." says Maria. Vodka's flavour is masked by other drinks so your teenager is losing their awareness that they are consuming alcohol. "You might think it's okay because you have a certain idea of what's happening, but of course what happens out of your sight may be completely different and also outside your teenager's control" said Maria. "Before you go ahead and agree to  something like that, really think about the message you are sending and the supervision you are providing"

Delay your child going out unsupervised for as long a possible and then remain vigilant, Maria advises "As a parent you need to delay your child going out without adult supervision as long as possible. Once a child figures out they can walk away, they will do it. Prevent them from figuring this out for as long as you can. You want to establish a good enough relationship and the expectation of proper superivision as early as you possibly can. If your 13 year old says 'Mum I'm off to the park,' you should say 'Which park? Who are you meeting there? How many people are going to be there? You are expected home at .........I won't embarrass you but I'll be driving by to check on you during that time.' You can give your child freedom but within age-appropriate boundaries. This won't work with a 17 year old but if you have done this early enough, your expecations of behaviour and safety will be clear."

A phone call to a mobile telephone is not supervision.

The number one mistake parents make is to think they don't need to know who their teenagers' friends are. Or who their parents are. " says Maria. "You need to make it very clear to your kids what you expect but eventually it will be their choice so they need to know what your expectations are for when they are making their own decisions."

image from NSW Police YouTube video

Comments (3)

MariaFuentes's picture

The trouble with reason

Hi Annie: thanks for your comments. you raise a good point and that is that in everyone's life there's a point at which they realise that they can can do stuff, and that there is very little that a reasonable parent can do, staying within reason, to stop them. This is usually a positive part of growing up, if it comes at the right time, but sometimes it comes too early, and it changes the rules of the game.
At this stage your choices are limited, you can continue to parent the ideal that isn't there, you can become overly punitive, or you can parent the reality, sounds like you chose the latter and it's showing you good results.

Good luck!

YvetteVignando's picture

Parents of Teens - The Best We Can Do

Such a great and generous sharing of reality, thank you Annie. The reality being that no matter what parents do, there are some influences that often prevail - peers, temperament, testosterone, wrong place/wrong time and so it goes on.

I really liked what you said - "My belief is if you provide the right guidelines, the right environment and display good values, even if they do stray off the track, they will come back." And that is really the best that we can do as parents, right?

I have seen close friends with teens that go "off track" and come back, and I think the coming back is for the very same reason you said.

With some trepidation, our family is approaching some of those teen years - I'm going to bear in mind all the guidelines and then cross my fingers and toes.

Annette Reuss's picture

Teenagers & Under Age Drinking

This is a post very close to my heart. When my boys were little I had a lot of ideas about this and was convinced they wouldn't be under age drinkers. We don't drink, other than eating out, their father doesn't drink - alcohol is not a part of our every day life. I was wrong.

The eldest I managed to hold off until he was around 16.5 before he had a drink. He really didn't get into it that much and I never really had any problems with him. A little bit here & there but nothing concerning.

Sadly my youngest was first drunk at 13. I followed Maria's ideas above, however for about 6 months I wasn't aware that my 13 year old was sneaking out in the middle of the night after we went to bed and meeting his mates in the park to drink. I didn't find out until I went into his room in the middle of the night (why I cant' recall) and found pillows in his bed. He was grounded, however he was sneaky. He and a friend drank a bottle of scotch & replaced contents with tea (would have gotten away with it had they bothered to strain the tea!). We have had a long few years with his drinking & foray into dope. He is almost 17 and doesn't drink, is into fitness and still getting the dope out of his system. He had a good set of friends, but would stray into the not so nice group for his fun. Thankfully his good group always stayed around and they are who he sees now.

So, what I'm trying to say here is, you can follow the guidelines, you can do everything you think is right, but sometimes it comes down to the nature of the child. My belief is if you provide the right guidelines, the right environment and display good values, even if they do stray off the track, they will come back.

I never bought my boys alcohol, ever. However I did ask that they tell me if alcohol was going to be at a party they were going to. I also checked on adult supervision and I always spoke to the adults. Sometimes parties were attended when supposedly having sleepovers somewhere else (sneaking out etc). In the end I took the approach that I would be happier if I knew where they were going to be and not have them lie. Whilst I wasn't always happy with the fact they were attending parties etc where alcohol was present, at least I knew and if something untoward was to happen, they could contact me without worry. This proved to be a good thing because there were a few occasions where I had to be called.

I don't know if I handled this the right way or the wrong way, however I ended up taking the approach that felt right. Don't get me wrong, I wished it was different and I wished at times I had sons who were better at following the rules, however that wasn't my reality. I have a good relationship with my boys and whilst I don't always like what they do, I always know where they are, who they are with and they always answer their mobiles when they are out.

We've had some tough times, but we've always had love. That, I believe is the key.

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