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Dear Dr. JPL:
We noticed some alcohol bottles are missing at our home. We are pretty sure our son took them, how should we approach him?
This is one of those tricky situations in which how and when you approach your teen really matters. Your goal is to get honest information and assess the situation. A calm and careful approach is most likely to yield success than confrontation and yelling. Find a time when you and your son are relaxed. Don’t ask to speak with him for example, the night before a big test or the second he gets home from a long day of school and afterschool activities. Although you may be anxious to discuss this, timing really is everything. If he is tired or hungry he is more likely to respond in an irritable or even angry manner.
When you do sit him down get right to the point in a conversational manner. You can open by saying something like this: “Hey I recently noticed that there are some bottles of alcohol missing. It’s important that you talk to me about what you know about that.” If he denies any knowledge but you are positive he was involved, continue on calmly with something like this: “I’m not angry just really concerned. If you had nothing to do with it then I am even more concerned. I believe it is you because…..” then detail what specific information led you to this conclusion. Let him know you want to discuss the situation with him. If he acknowledges his part, ask for his input regarding what he thinks the consequences should be. If he continues to deny any knowledge you are pressed with an important decision. If you are convinced that he isn’t being truthful then discuss the consequences with him. Make clear that you are implementing consequences for both his dishonesty and for taking the alcohol. If at a later point you discover he was not involved you can apologize.
It is important to set limits and implement consequences if you believe he is being dishonest. This type of behavior may be a red flag to other concerns. Monitor his behavior carefully for any major changes (e.g. declining academics, sleeping too much or too little, social isolation, lack of interest in previously enjoyed activities and/or friends). If you notice these things you are best served getting in touch with a counseling professional to help you evaluate the situation.
ASK DR. JPL: Have a question about your own teen and alcohol? Ask our resident tween, teen and parenting expert, Dr. Jennifer Powell-Lunder Psy.D, to help you have The Alcohol Talk with your child. Submit your questions on the Ask Dr. JPL page of this blog. Dr. JPL may answer your question on the blog to help other parents address similar issues with their children.