Parenting Teens – Parents are adopting more open attitude to alcohol, drugs and sex.

A third of UK parents see drugs as an inevitable part of growing up and most allow children to drink at home from 13, a study says.

British parents are increasingly relaxed about their children drinking alcohol from as young as 10 years old, taking drugs and having sex, according to research released today.

One third of parents, rising to half of those in London, said they were happy for their children to experiment with cannabis. A similar proportion admitted they were relaxed about all drug-taking, regarding it as an inevitable part of growing up.

“Sex, alcohol and even drugs are no longer no-go areas for children as far as parents are concerned,” said Frank Furred, professor of sociology at the University of Kent. “The old-fashioned parent is fast becoming a cultural minority as mums and dads do their best to give their kids the freedoms they did not have. Families have become surprisingly open-minded about allowing their children to experiment and find their own way in life.”

“Parents understand that society has changed and that it is not the end of the world if their teenager experiments with alcohol or has sex,” he added.

I have to say I read this with mixed feelings; part of me is very happy that we have moved away from the traditional old style of parenting and part of me thinks we must take the threat of alcohol, cigarettes and drugs seriously and not make it OK for children to do these things.

I do have to disagree with the esteemed Frank Furred, professor of sociology at the University of Kent in his submissions, in that this is not about parents giving their children the freedom they didn’t have, this is about a shift from Baby Boomer parenting to Gen X parenting and it is not about freedom, it’s about safety.

Baby boomers were such idealists in how they parented; they had a real attitude of, “My kid would never do that,” and they really believed that, preferring to live in Utopia rather than the real world. As the majority of parents of teens now belong to Gen X, we are seeing a shift in parenting.

Gen X had greater freedom as children; they were often left to it and took advantage of this, getting themselves into some real scrapes that they had to deal with alone. Gen X are huge realists and if they are known for anything it is challenging social norms, so it is no surprise that they are aware of what their children are up to; they did it all and a bit more.  So when faced with the dilemma of drink, drugs and sex they take a very down-to-earth attitude, while at the same time wanting to protect their children from some of the horrors they had to deal with.

A parent I was working with was happy to go and get her 14-year-old and his friends some beer rather than them having to get it some other way; at least this way she knew what he was drinking. I have personally told my daughter that when she gets curious about smoking, etc. to tell us and she can try it at home, so we know she is safe.

This is not about giving them freedom; it is about keeping them safe.

However, we need to balance parent’s new found realism with a bigger, broader view of what is right. While letting children drink a little alcohol at home may be OK, is buying it for them and their friends acceptable? Is seeing drug use as an inevitable part of growing up OK? I am not suggesting I have all the answers here and for each parent it will be different, but as long as we think our teenagers are likely to encounter these things, we need to change our thinking from, “I may as well accept it,” to, “I need to ensure my child feels strong enough to make their own decisions.”

What I do know for sure is that we need to be having conversations with our children around these topics – no excuse! And to start them why not try our teen conversation cards.

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  1. says

    Hi Sarah

    Good article, raising issues that I am facing now with my daughter and parents of her friends. My parents were very chilled, I came into this world accompanied by the sounds of Bob Dylan and Carole King. I went to a very progressive school, my parents encouraged me to smoke infront of them rather than hide away, I was encouraged to sleep with my boyfriend at home rather than sneak off to the park or the back of a car. They were very open about sex and drugs. My mother taught about my body parts, how to use a Tampax etc etc. Now my daughter is 13 and part of me wants to be as open as my parents were but its hard. I am very grateful to my parents for the way they handled all that ‘stuff’. I believe it stopped me from going off the rails, it stopped me from taking hard drugs, getting pregnant and smoking 20 a day. It was simple really, because nothing had to be done in secret I lost interest in most of it pretty quickly and as a result everything was done in moderation as I grew up. I think, for what its worth, its more dangerous now, access to drugs (including alcohol) is easier than ever. Its a tougher world out there today, there is more pressure on children than ever before. If you can talk to your child that is great. The advantage we have now as parents is access to masses of information and support around all these issues. Would I buy the beer for my daughter to drink at home? I probably would.

    • Sarah Newton says

      Thanks so much for your comments..I do think talking is the key and if we can talk we are more than half way there. We have to honest and realistic about what is happening in the world. My daughter at 15 is not doing half the things I was doing at her age and I think that is because I have made nothing off limits when it comes to talking. Glad you liked it :-)

  2. Karen says

    I think it is absurd for parents to allow their children to do those things in their house. I think it is morally reprehensible to allow teenagers to drink at your house and condone sexual activity as a teen. The bottom line is morals. If parents have none, their teenagers will have none. Imagine what the teen will allow his/her children to do when it comes time. It is playing with fire and any responsible parent would be well advised to not buy into that way of parenting.

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