Teens, Athletes, Parents, and Drinking: What's a Parent To Do?


In keeping in line with my last piece, Current High School Athletic Codes: Are You Aware They Have Changed?, I would like you to try something for me. Using your internet browser, pull up Google and type in High School Athletes Suspended for Drinking. Now click search and peruse what comes up.

Take a good look at the number of articles indicating suspensions for underage consumption of alcohol by athletes. Not much from 2010, certainly not yet anyway, but a good number from 2009 and earlier.

Sure seems like a fairly large number of suspensions right? That's even when we consider some of these pieces are a little dated. Furthermore, it is imperative to keep in mind that this search represents only a small fraction of the actual athletes who consistently break their athletic code through this type of illegal behavior. These were only the athletes who got caught, a very important point indicative of much larger participating numbers.

I can tell you with complete confidence that the number of athletes, and students, breaking their athletic codes by drinking is quite a bit larger. Parties where alcohol and other drugs are consumed by underage participants are a common occurrence, almost every weekend and in every community.

As I indicated in my most recent post regarding the athletic code, not a lot has changed with student athlete behavior and alcohol over the last several decades. Student athletes "partied" when I was in high school, they did it when I was coaching (even though I took a very strong ethical stand on this issue), they did it when my own kids were in high school, and they are still doing it. However, there is something, other than the more strict athletic codes of today, that has changed - and it is not necessarily with the student athlete.

Adolescents, just by their general nature, will push limits. I think it is part and parcel of who they are, along with a teen's inability to see that they are not invincible and that bad things can and do happen to them. What they need is solid parental guidance, some structure, to be held responsible and accountable for their behavior - so they learn where acceptable conduct ends and unacceptable conduct begins, along with a modest amount of discipline, all mixed in with a little understanding and compassion.

In my mind, this is where many have lost touch. The balance between all of these important aspects has really broken down. There seems to be such an overwhelming sense of understanding and compassion from parents and/or caregivers that when situations arise regarding a young athlete crossing the line (making a mistake), it turns into something that was "not the athlete's fault" or behavior that indicates "the rules don't apply" to them. There are even times when parents become "party" to (no pun intended), or most certainly turn a blind eye to, what goes on when it comes to alcohol and athletes underage drinking.

I don't know about you, but when I was in high school, parents were not their kid's best friend. Don't get me wrong, I was lucky enough to have a great relationship with my own parents and I could talk with them about anything, and/or get honest, sound advice when I needed it; however, I, as did most of my friends, had boundaries and limits.

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We had curfews, expectations and rules, and if we stepped over the line, something happened. We were held responsible and accountable for the things we did. We did not anticipate or expect our parents to appeal an athletic code violation - let alone take it to court to circumvent a suspension and get us back on the playing field.

Parents did not automatically take their son's or daughter's side when they did something wrong or protect them from the cost of their own choices. If we got into trouble, we were much more concerned about the consequences we were about to experience at home than the ones given out by the school.

It was uncommon years ago to see attitudes indicating that it was never the kid's fault or that the rules didn't apply. The rules did apply to us and, most times, it was our fault.

Parents were much less likely to turn a blind eye to activities that even they themselves may have participated in when they were kids, let alone put newspaper all over front windows of their house so individuals walking by could not see the underage drinking going on inside - something that allegedly happened last year on New Year's Eve in Elmhurst, IL (CBS 2 News: Student Athletes Suspended).

Parents were unlikely to ever call teachers to take a look at the final exam their son or daughter failed; leaving the initial impression that there must be something wrong with the test, not with what their kid either did or did not do. It was rare that students, and student athletes, in my day were given money, cars, spring break vacations, and other expensive items just because we turned 16. If the possibility of getting things like this existed, most of us would have had to earn them somehow. If my memory serves me correct, very few things were just given out free, at least not in the world I lived in.

And what about this ridiculous and crazy new trend of purchasing breast implants for a young lady's high school graduation present - seriously, am I living in the twilight zone? Maybe it is just me, but I seem to recall a lot less focus on the superficial back not too long ago.

Life lessons. They were taught through the experiences we had as kids, and parents were far less likely to get in the way of that learning. This sense of entitlement so many young people appear to exhibit today was just not as prevalent or pervasive in my years growing up.

This "enabling" short-term gratification parenting style has led to athletes believing that the rules simply don't apply to them, that putting their signature on a piece of paper (athletic code) having expectations and rules on it that they are supposed to follow, is simply a formality. There is no real meaning to them about the fact that they have made a commitment to a set standard of conduct, something that when followed, even when the pressure is great not to, builds character and integrity; nor is this meaning or these concepts truly supported or taken seriously by many of their parents. It just "is, what it is," something they have to sign in order to play.

As difficult as it might be, when placed in a position where one must choose between being their son's or daughter's friend versus being their parent, there is only one choice to make, and that choice should be obvious.

And we wonder why so many athletes today have very skewed ethical compasses.


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  • I could not agree more. This parenting thing is such a sore spot with me. I've heard people say they want to be the cool or hip parent, or that they've called about a detention at school, or written notes to teachers about their child's grades. I think what it boils down to is that parents feel guilty about working too much and not spending enough time with their kids, and so they spoil them or try to keep their kids from being mad at them. I'm pretty old fashioned, I know, but I think it's important to be home and around for your kids, even when they act like that's the last thing they want. They do. And I'm all for grounding the crap out of them when they deserve it. And...as far as my kids know, I ALWAYS side with the school and teachers (I'll listen of course to my kids, but they need to learn respect for their elders by watching how their parent(s) handle matters). Clearly there is right and there is wrong and parents NEED to stop all the entitlement stuff and step up and be PARENTS.

  • P.S. I also think parents feel like failures if they admit their kids have done something wrong. ALL kids make mistakes. It's perfectly natural for that to happen. What matters is how you handle things and if they've learned something of value from making it.

  • Jackie,

    I appreciate your thoughts on this topic. As a veteran teacher for over 30 years I could tell you stories that would curl your hair. It has been trying to watch some of the changes occur, over the years, involving attitudes that tend to border on the ridiculous, at times, especially coming from the background from which I have come (long story, it is highlighted on my forthcoming book website).

    If I was a little smarter, I would have kept all those notes from students and parents, along with a diary of all the conversations I have had, that support much of what is in this post.

    As I have said too many, on many of an occasion, to truly understand what

  • In reply to KirkMango:

    Wow, I bet you never thought you were in for that kind of ride when you went in to teaching. I would love to read your book. My kids swim and play soccer...I don't know if they're interested in becoming champions in either, but just in case....:) I will stay tunes. Thanks for your writing. I think you'll inspire people.

  • In reply to KirkMango:

    Thanks Jackie. BATC (the book) is written for all athletes no matter what level (ages 13 and up). The idea of a "True Champion" goes much deeper than level of play centering its focus on what is on the inside, which then, hopefully, leads to accomplishments on the outside. From the inside-out so to speak.

    Hey, pass this blog and my forthcoming book website to anyone that might be interested.

    All My Best


  • In reply to KirkMango:

    I like this article, but I must say that not all parents are like that. Mine certainly aren't. I know a few parents who let kids throw parties and stuff, though. Pretty stupid of them considering the amount of trouble they could get in, huh?

  • In reply to masx0269:


    Great point, and I would have to agree with you - that not all parents are like this. However, many of the behaviors I identified seem to be much more popular today than what I remember growing up. Additionally, being a teacher, I see this much more often then I like. It not only makes teaching more difficult, it makes raising kids, for those parents that aren't this way, more difficult as well.

  • In reply to KirkMango:

    I certainly agree with most of this article.

    My parents never allowed me to do much of anything except school and athletics, but I have met parents who would party with us, as if they were 17 again. This is not a good example, and in the end, these kids end up bringing the same attitude to their parenting, using leniency just to be "cool".

    Parents should be strict and involved with their kids lives in a more productive fashion. Coming from a Southeast Asian background, I can tell you that none of this leniency would be tolerated. Sometimes too much freedom could lead you down the wrong path.

  • In reply to satorajaujhely:

    Hey MacBizzle,

    Great comment. Yes, the discipline and expectations, I would guess, are much higher in the asian culture. Maybe that is part of the reason for their academic success when they come to the states, something too many American kids take for granted.

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