Dear Harlan: My son has been caught with alcohol in high school on two occasions. We are approaching graduation, and he’s going to be attending a college with a few close friends. They all have a reputation for drinking and partying. My husband and I are worried about him taking the partying too far. How can we trust him being four hours away when he has proven to us that he can’t be responsible at home?
— Worried Mom
Dear Worried Mom: The truth is that you can’t control his behavior. But you can talk to him about making safer choices and being smart about being stupid. Being smart about being stupid means if he ever makes a stupid choice, he doesn’t get evicted, expelled or arrested. It means he will manage his time, get work done and always pass classes. It means knowing when to say no. It means setting limits. It means never harming others or himself. It means he will surround himself with people who will make sure he’s safe. It means taking the role of designated driver and taking on leadership roles that make it socially unacceptable to drink.
Talk to him about his plan when it comes to his social life. Bring up hypothetical situations that concern you. Since he has a history of making questionable choices, one condition of him going away can be to have a therapist who he checks in with on a regular basis. A child with a history of abusing alcohol is drinking for a reason. He might not even understand the reasons why he does what he does. In addition to finding him support, encourage him to get a part-time job (not at a bar) or take on a role that requires him to follow certain rules. Discuss his expectations and yours. Most importantly, make it clear that no matter what happens, you’ll always be there for him. You trust him and you love him.