How do I help my daughter and deal with her friends?
March 13, 2012 10:09 PM   Subscribe

How do I help my college-aged daughter? I think she drinks too much and her friends are a contributing factor.

My 20-year old daughter is studying in a modest-sized town that has a reputation for drunken behavior. She has told us several times that there's nothing else to do on the weekend but attend parties and drink.

She has a steady boyfriend who lives nearby. He's an amiable yet aimless kid, and he's definitely a bad influence on her, all things considered.

Recently, some of his (and her) drunken antics came to our attention via Facebook and I'm disappointed that my precious daughter hasn't chosen better friends.

I am paying her tuition, room, and board. She has a car and a phone. Life's pretty easy for her, all things considered.

My wife and I don't drink (at all) and we don't really know what to do.

We believe that her statement that there's nothing to do but drink is a clear call for help, and that it is time for us to intervene. We're not sure how far we should go, however.

Options range from:

1. Do nothing and see her become an alcoholic. Addictive behavior runs in my family as well as in my wife's so this is a real fear of ours.

2. Tell the boyfriend to take a hike, with an optional one-way prepaid ticket to a remote part of the world.

3. Force her to move back home so that we can monitor and guide her behavior.

4. Allow her to return to school, with strict (yet hard to enforce) prohibitions on her behavior.

5. Tell her that I will no longer pay for school if this behavior persists.

posted by anonymous to Health & Fitness (47 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
She is an adult - the only avenue you have available to you is 5 or 1. You have no power to enforce 2 or 4, and if push comes to shove you have no ability to enforce 3 either. And really, 5 can easily be circumvented by hiding her activities from you.

I think it's perfectly fair that you are concerned. However, I don't think her behaviour is an automatic sentence of alcoholism. Many young people engage in similar behaviour and end up as perfectly functional adults.

Have you tried talking to her about your concerns?
posted by sid at 10:16 PM on March 13, 2012 [5 favorites]

I choose 6. Talk to your daughter about alcohol and addiction as if she were an adult.
posted by carsonb at 10:17 PM on March 13, 2012 [102 favorites]

You sound a lot like my dad. We have a cordial but distant relationship because of similar behaviour to what you're suggesting while I was 17 - 21 years old. I ended up moving interstate as soon as I graduated university and neither told him of my plans nor contacted him for six months after. I suggest you actually talk to her. If your only evidence for unsafe drinking is Facebook, maybe you are jumping to conclusions.
posted by Wantok at 10:20 PM on March 13, 2012 [16 favorites]

How about 6) Tell your daughter you trust her, keep an ongoing dialog with her about her life choices, and support her in making the right decisions she needs to make for herself? College is a time of experimentation and exploration for a lot of people. Having a supportive family is important.

You seem to have shockingly little faith in how well you raised her. I would think that caring parents such as yourself raised a self-respecting daughter who can generally take care of herself at the age of 20, even if she might not be making the decisions you would make or living her life in exactly the way you lived yours (or that you wish she'd live hers). Does she seem to be happy? Socially adjusted? Getting decent grades?

Anecdotally, when I was in college, I drank myself stupid regularly, partook of a number of illegal substances, and had an awful lot of fun with a string of extremely questionable boyfriends. However, I didn't get knocked up, didn't drop out, got decent grades, graduated, and went on to have a fulfilling career, a life that didn't revolve around drinking, and a wonderful husband.
posted by erst at 10:22 PM on March 13, 2012 [31 favorites]

Why dont you sit down and talk with her about it? Making mistakes is something people do, but you need to communicate with her. Also, why the hell are you paying all of her bills!?
posted by KeSetAffinityThread at 10:22 PM on March 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

If all she wants to do is drink, she can do that just about anywhere.

If she wants to do something other than drink, how about:

7. Ask her if there's somewhere she'd rather being going to college.
posted by Jahaza at 10:22 PM on March 13, 2012 [5 favorites]

College kids drink. A lot. It's not the end of the world. Stop stalking her facebook. She's never been around people that drink responsibly, if you don't drink, so she's probably going to have to learn some lessons the hard way.
posted by empath at 10:22 PM on March 13, 2012 [16 favorites]

This sounds like the most generic of parental concern compounded by the fact that you as parents are teetotalers. Because she got drunk in college does not make her an alcoholic. Her 20-year-old aimless boyfriend is aimless because he's 20.

I expect that whatever you choose, she will roll her eyes and pretend to play along while you're watching, and block you on Facebook.
posted by tylerkaraszewski at 10:23 PM on March 13, 2012 [16 favorites]

There's evidence of what I would call alcoholic behavior in my family. From your description I drank much the same as your daughter does when I was in college. Not much to do, lots of friends who drank, and there were certainly blackouts.

Yet I'm not an alcoholic. I don't drink at home or by myself. Once a month or so I'll go out with friends and have some beers or mixed drinks.

College was just a phase. My important questions to gauge your daughter's behavior are:

a) does it affect her grades? If it's only on the weekend then probably not. But if she's skipping class or missing homework to drink with her friends, then it's a problem.

b) does she only socially drink? If she's drinking by herself (we're not talking pre-drinking here or a glass of wine at night), or hiding her drinking from even her friends, then it's a problem.

To answer your questions:

1) This is not a certainty. You have to let her make her own choices.

2) Not going to work, and she's going to resent you for it. You need her to comunicate with you right now and she won't if it's you or the bf.

3) Taking away her freedom to make choices is probably the most certain thing you could do to make her an alcoholic.

4) See #3

5) See #2
posted by The Supreme Dominar at 10:23 PM on March 13, 2012

What about:

6. Talk to her about her drinking and tell her you and her mother are concerned, and you want the best for her future, her health, and her schooling. Keep a watchful eye on her. Express to her that you love her and don't want her to harm herself or do anything that would negatively impact her future.

But listen. She will not necessarily become an alcoholic if you do nothing. A lot of college kids drink a lot. I did. Boy, did I drink. I had a great time partying in college. I went out drinking like five days a week! I did not become an alcoholic, although it runs in my family as well. I actually graduated cumme laude and am now a successful grown-up who owns her own business, has a great relationship with her family, and is currently drinking a glass of wine. Drinking a lot when you are 20 is not that unusual, especially in a college town.

She's an adult. You can not force her to move home. Breaking up with the boyfriend on her behalf -- and potentially PAYING HIM OFF -- is A TERRIBLE IDEA. This will drive them closer together and she will possibly cut you out of her life entirely. You can cut off tuition, but why not start with talking to her about it and telling her you are concerned? How are her grades?

With all due respect, I completely understand why you are concerned, but I think you are jumping to the worst possible scenario for your kid, when it's TOTALLY likely that, in fact, she is going to be totally fine and not an alcoholic wastrel at all.
posted by Countess Sandwich at 10:23 PM on March 13, 2012 [5 favorites]

Your daughter thinks that you respect her autonomy sufficiently that she has not blocked you on Facebook. If you proceed in the direction in which you're going, you're going to destroy your relationship with your kid. She is not issuing a clear cry for help, she's communicating with you about her life and feelings. Maybe you can think of something fun that she and her friends can do that doesn't involve drinking, and suggest it to her. What did you do when you were in school?
posted by Scram at 10:24 PM on March 13, 2012 [10 favorites]

Have you actually spoken to her about this? Also, what kind of drunken behaviors are we talking about here? Party pictures are one thing, keg stand pictures on facebook are another, and evidence of drunk driving or other dangerous behavior is something else altogether. Ultimately, drinking is a pretty normative behavior in most of the US, especially for college students. I really think the fact that you and your wife don't drink is coloring your perception of her situation. Drinking in college does not equal a one way ticket to alcoholism.

As for what you can do, well, you can talk to her. Ask her how *she* feels about her drinking. She may admit that she's uncomfortable with her relationship to alcohol, in which case you can direct her to resources her school might offer. I know my strong-drinking-culture college has an informal, non-AA drinking support group available. If she rolls her eyes, well, she's an adult and this is something she needs to figure out for herself- you can't micromanage your "precious" adult daughter's life. Let her make her own mistakes.

How are her grades and her life outside of partying? If she's getting shitty grades or losing interest in things she used to enjoy or dropping positive things in her life, or not thinking about the future, these are things you can talk to her about that don't really have anything to do with alcohol.
posted by MadamM at 10:24 PM on March 13, 2012

If that comes off a little glib, I'm sorry; I didn't mean to sound harsh.

Your daughter is an adult. If you approach her as as one to discuss alcohol and addiction, I think your conversation has a chance to be fruitful. Addiction in the family is a convenient (if unfortunate) way to prompt the discussion. "Have we ever told you why we don't drink at all?"

Inform her, encourage her to be the best she can be, and show her the support she'll need to overcome the pressures and pitfalls of college life. She might even thank you for it later.
posted by carsonb at 10:24 PM on March 13, 2012

Count me another woman with a very, very poor relationship to my father due to similar attempts to control my adult choices in authoritarian ways. Please, I know it's tempting, and I believe my parents honestly believed (and still believe) they are doing the right thing, but it's not.

Talk to her like an adult. Try to influence her. Show concern, but do. not. make threats, and definitely DEFINITELY don't confront the boyfriend. It sucks, it's hard when someone you care about is making poor choices, but you are not going to be able to control her actions through external force - nobody is. You might argue "well, yes I can, I can refuse to support her" but the likely (in my experience, guaranteed) result of that is bitterness and, if not immediate rebellion, further poor choices down the line that are either out of your control entirely (she decides to go on her own) or hidden from you. Please, don't do it.
posted by celtalitha at 10:25 PM on March 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

Your daughter is 20, not 15. You can't force her to break up with her boyfriend. Making her move home? Really? Buying boyfriend a 1-way-ticket? I hope you're kidding.

Sit down and have a talk about responsible drinking.

1. Always be with a group of friends and have 2 buddies
2. Never leave a drink alone or have an open cup
3. Drink 1 glass of water per beverage
4. Don't drive drunk
5. Eat before drinking

Tell her there are addictive tendancies in your families so she needs to be extra on top of things.

This is what many (if not the majority) of college kids do.

If she doesn't like the scene, look into transferring.
posted by k8t at 10:25 PM on March 13, 2012 [30 favorites]

Do none of your listed things. She's a big girl and needs to learn how to handle herself and just plain learn how much she can drink before getting sick and feeling shitty for the rest of the weekend. Just because she drinks a lot in college does not mean she will become an alcoholic.

What makes you think that her drinking is a cry for help? Has she said something to you that makes you think she's struggling? Are her grades slipping?

Have you talked to her about your concerns?? Is she drinking, partying, then acting super drunk for photos (my friends actually do this. Why? I have no idea)? Or is she drinking and blacking out on a regular basis? If she really is blacking out regularly, then maybe it's a cause for concern.

Your slew of concerns regarding an intervention is why I never directly told my parents when I started drinking in college. They probably have since put 2 and 2 together, but they trust my judgment and have never brought it up as an issue. Seriously, your daughter sounds like me my 1st year of college. I'm about to graduate this year with good grades and actually a very much lessened desire to get drunk every weekend and party.

I don't mean to pin this on you or your wife in anyway, but your lack of drinking may have helped the drinking a lot in college thing along. Since she never had the opportunity to learn that it's totally normal and ok to have a beer or a few glasses of wine at dinner at home, she's got to learn how much she can drink on her own, though unfortunately for you, this occurs at parties where you have absolutely no control over.

Basically, just relax.
posted by astapasta24 at 10:25 PM on March 13, 2012

Talk to her if you must, but mostly I say let this go. I wouldn't say her drinking is age-appropriate, but I will say binge drinking is extraordinarily common amongst college students, and usually tapers off after graduation.

16-20 years ago, I was your daughter, with the same family history of alcoholism. I'm just fine now and drinking is not a problem in my life.
posted by bluedaisy at 10:32 PM on March 13, 2012

Also, seriously, you're considering pulling your daughter out of college because she and her friends drink? You would actually end your daughter's university education because she isn't behaving how you'd like her to?
posted by erst at 10:33 PM on March 13, 2012 [21 favorites]

While I can understand why your daughter's behavior concerns you, most of the actions you describe will probably alienate you from each other not to mention push her deeper into the activities that you disapprove of, and 1. is not a foregone conclusion. Since addiction runs in your family, I think it is completely reasonable to discuss this with your daughter without trying to regulate her behavior. If she is maintaining good grades and seems to be running her life successfully, I don't think there is much point in threatening to withdraw tuition or upend her current living situation. Having an open and honest discussion about alcohol, drugs, addiction, and your concerns, however, is not out of line. What you describe sounds like pretty typical college behavior, so please keep in mind that while it is foreign to you, it is not necessarily abnormal. If you can put aside any judgment, my guess is that you can have an open and ongoing dialogue that steers your daughter in the right direction without overreaching or creating distance between you. It is a tough balance to achieve, especially when you are a non-drinker, but it sounds like she is exhibiting pretty typical behavior and, while she probably already knows you do not approve, she still feels comfortable enough with you that you are aware of her activities. It's stressful for a parent no doubt, but that actually is an ideal situation and points to a pretty healthy parent-child relationship.
posted by katemcd at 10:47 PM on March 13, 2012

You should, like people say above, treat your daughter like an adult and not a parent who can't let go. 2-4 are laughable. 5 and perhaps 1 would just be a disaster.
posted by OnTheLastCastle at 10:53 PM on March 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

I wanted to add that a few people have made a very good point about your daughter perhaps not having any life experience or role models for what "moderation" means in the context of alcohol. I've seen this to be a common problem with some of my peers, when they are raised with a very all-or-nothing view towards a subject; the unintended result can be that they honestly don't know how to handle it when they start realizing that the real world is not always as obvious or straightforward.

In this case the fact is people do drink, and good people drink, sometimes even a lot. Does that mean there's no line anywhere, that there is no such thing as a poor choice? Of course not. But your daughter is most likely a little confused as to where the boundaries are (most young people are!) and you admitting that this confusion is normal and natural (to her and to yourself) is going to be the first step towards allowing yourself to be taken seriously by her.

Ultimately, you want her to develop her own sense of reason and ability to make wise judgments and draw boundaries. She is not going to learn that by being cut off financially, or having her boyfriend told off, or being forced to live at home until she's 30. She will learn it, hopefully, through (A) trial and error, (B) time, and (C) positive role models who can guide her to make wise choices and respect herself in ways that she understands and believes in.

The only one you can really affect is (C).
posted by celtalitha at 11:00 PM on March 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

Your daughter sounds a bit like me--I'm a fairly recent college grad, with parents who never drank, and in college (especially my first couple of years) I certainly drank a lot. Lots of bars, lots of frat parties, making out with random guys, etc. All of my friends did the same. AND, I wasn't one of the more extreme but very common girls who got very very drunk more than a few days a week, slept with strangers, etc. Then...I got over it.

And now I'm just fine! I still drink recreationally, but not to the extent that I used to. Not even close.

My brother is in college, and during his freshman year our mom called me in a panic, saying that she had found empty alcohol bottles in his room. I flat out laughed. He's in college, he's an adult, he's a good, responsible guy...and he's totally fine. College students drink. That's what they do.
posted by Emms at 11:08 PM on March 13, 2012

Why are you paying her tuition, room, board, car, and phone, at that age? If you cut out at least one or two of those things, she might need to get a weekend mall gig to cover her expenses...maybe getting up early for a Sunday morning shift would have her thinking twice about binge-drinking Saturday night.
posted by Pomo at 11:13 PM on March 13, 2012 [3 favorites]

Unless your daughter's alcohol indulgence is way more serious than has come across in your post your daughter's college experience more or less sounds like...pretty much everyone I've ever known.

(Difference being Facebook wasn't around when I was in school 20 years ago with it's photographic evidence of every bad decision, so I could just tell my folks that I "hung out with some friends" when they asked me what I did over the weekend and not even really be lying. Now that I'm in my late 30s my mom has expressed concern that I drink too much based entirely on Facebook photos she's seen of me at parties. I had to explain to her that I usually don't get photographed during my more typical Saturday nights in front of the TV)

As others have mentioned, if your daughter's grades are problematic I could see the reasoning behind "laying down the law" if she expects your continued financial support, but what you've written here just sounds like your daughter is having an entirely typical college experience.
posted by The Gooch at 11:15 PM on March 13, 2012

Oh, hi, you sound like my (Mormon, teetotalling) dad when I was in college. He didn't approve of any drinking at all, and didn't have any evidence that I was drinking unsafely, but still freaked the fuck out when he surmised that I was (barely, fairly responsibly, in no way to the extent of any of my peers) drinking at all.

As someone who has been (sort of) in your daughter's shoes, here's what would have happened with me:

1. Do nothing and see her become an alcoholic.

Partying on weekends does not an alcoholic make- this is truly catastrophic thinking and makes you seem a really overwrought about all this, which will make her take you a lot less seriously than you otherwise would in any conversation you have about this. It's fine to talk to her about this if you're not going to come off a crazy- which means you need to talk to her about doing it safely and not about Mandatory Sobriety. k8t has the right idea.

2. Tell the boyfriend to take a hike, with an optional one-way prepaid ticket to a remote part of the world.

This is a really good way to get them to marry! Or at least take a lot longer to break up than they would have otherwise.

3. Force her to move back home so that we can monitor and guide her behavior.

There's nothing better than turning a 20-year old student (presumably) succeeding in college into a surly dropout mooch whose every action grates on you!

4. Allow her to return to school, with strict (yet hard to enforce) prohibitions on her behavior.

She is a grown-up. This is a really good way to teach her to be better at lying and less good at communicating with you.

5. Tell her that I will no longer pay for school if this behavior persists.

This is what my dad tried, and since he was contributing a lot less than you I said thankyouverymuch, I'll have none of that, and worked some more hours and went on my merry way. My relationship with him in my 20s was pretty seriously screwed up by the ridiculous authoritarian way he tried to control my adult choices.
posted by charmedimsure at 11:16 PM on March 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

Here's the thing: a lot of people drink too much in college, and they eventually figure it out and stop drinking so much and end up as non-alcoholics with successful careers.

You need to focus on more "long-term damage" that she might be causing to herself instead of the drinking itself.

1. Talk to her about how she shouldn't be posting drunk photos on Facebook. Professors, hiring managers for potential internships, parents of her friends, and others may see them - and since the internet is forever, anything that gets posted now may be up there when she's 27. She should untag photos like this.

2. Ask to see her grades and insist that she maintains reasonably good grades. If her grades are problematically (anything below a 3.0), talk to her about how her drinking and partying is affecting her grades, and help her think through how she might improve her studying.

3. Talk to her about sexual safety while drinking. Date rape/acquaintance rape is startlingly prevalent on college campuses, and she needs to make sure that she is not getting so drunk that she can't protect herself. She also needs to be watching out for her female friends. If she is having sex while drunk, she needs to know the importance of insisting on condoms. You can also talk to her about not drinking and driving.

4. You can talk to her about extreme drinking - is she getting so drunk that she throws up or blacks out? Talk to her about how to pace out her drinking. My mom talked to me about "tricks" to make it seem like I was drinking more than I was, so that my friends wouldn't give me a hard time about not drinking enough - holding a cup in my hand without sipping from it, or pouring it out when I was in the bathroom.
posted by amaire at 11:16 PM on March 13, 2012 [4 favorites]

Putting pictures of your drunken antics on Facebook is classic college student behaviour. Like eating ramen, dating questionable people, worrying your parents. It's just ordinary stuff.
posted by Greener Backyards at 11:17 PM on March 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

It's pretty well known that college is the time for experimentation. I knew people who went off to college never having had a drink, but by the time I graduated I can't think of a single person who held out for the entire time.

Going out to parties and drinking and posting photos on facebook....this happens every weekend. There's really nothing you can do to stop that behaviour.

She's old enough now that trying to force her to stop drinking will only alienate and anger her. You can't treat her like a precious little child anymore.

I do feel for you in this position. Is she in her first year? Because that will probably be the time when she does the most experimentation and maintains the least contact. After the novelty wears off, she may be more honest and forthcoming with you.

But to address your questions: if her partying is getting to a level that she becomes irresponsible and she is not taking advantage of the opportunity of being at college, I really think you should wean her off your financial support, or demand that she work part-time to help make a contribution. When I was at school I was somewhat shocked at the slacker attitude of some students, but it was mostly those who had all their fees covered by their parents, who would take it the least seriously. If you ask her to get a part time job to help cover the expenses, she will have to budget her time more carefully between school work and her job and maybe will have less free time for getting drunk. I can see that you care deeply about your daughter and are doing everything possible to help her succeed, and your concern for her is sweet and admirable. The best thing for her may be a little jolt of responsibility. If she is forced to work to pay for her schooling, it will make her consider how much she really wants to be there.
posted by costanza at 11:39 PM on March 13, 2012

I think you should talk to her instead of threatening her. My mother is extremely controlling so the first chance I got, I left. I don't talk to her about things because our relationship is characterized by our mutual struggles to gain control of MY life. I no longer ask for her opinions, include her in my decision making or call her for anything because I expect that she'll want to fall back into trying to make the calls in my life.

Like you, my mom wants the best for her child, me. But she did in a way that was a lot like yours. "This is MY house, you play by MY rules or you move out." "You keep that up and I will not be paying for this anymore." I have no doubt that she loves me and she only wants me to avoid mistakes and so on, but the way she did it really made me feel disrespected, overlooked and underestimated. She made me feel like she thought that I was entirely incapable of making decisions for myself, that my opinions don't matter and that I'm not living my life to her standards.

Instead of hating on her boyfriend, maybe you should just talk to her. Ask her where she sees this relationship in five years. Ask her why she likes being with him. Make an effort to try to understand their relationship (or appear to) before you tell her how you feel. Otherwise, she'll feel like you made no effort to understand her position and therefore, you are unjustified in your concerns.

Talk to her about the alcohol. Maybe ask her what her hobbies are and how to make those happen on campus so she's not constantly partying.

I don't know. I'm not a parent, but I'm a daughter. And my mom tried the things you're about to try with your daughter, and it did not work with me. You take this 'my way or the highway' attitude with her, she's probably going to do the same right back at you.
posted by cyml at 2:00 AM on March 14, 2012 [1 favorite]

I can tell you that, in my case, your options 2 - 4 would only foster increased rebelliousness and a real sense of resentment that my parents still insist on seeing me like a child whom they can control. I'm sure you love your daughter and don't want to damage your relationship with her.

My suggestions, as a recent(ish) college graduate...

1. Don't stalk her Facebook. It is not always - hell, it's hardly ever an accurate representation of a person's life. And even if her photos are set to public or whatever, the fact that you're checking her Facebook and making judgments based on it is sort of controlling and invasive. (Sorry.)

2. Open up a dialogue with her. This is a much better way of getting an idea of how she spends her time. If she seems happy and settled, then who cares if she's going out and drinking? And if she's not, encourage her to transfer to a different college.

3. Be realistic. College is a time of excess, dumb choices and experimentation for basically everyone who is lucky enough to go there. This is an education too.

4. But don't continue to give her financial support if it becomes obvious she's being irresponsible - ie by getting poor grades. She needs to know her actions have consequences. It would be a lot better, and more character-forming, if she needed to work for her disposable income and would set her up much better for life after college if she had good work experience and a well-developed sense of responsibility.
posted by Ziggy500 at 3:32 AM on March 14, 2012 [1 favorite]

We believe that her statement that there's nothing to do but drink is a clear call for help

Hmm, I pretty sure Robin Hood couldn't even draw that bow. A clear call for help is: "I'm drinking too much, and I'm scaring myself, I need help." A clear call for help is not: "This two horse town sucks".

Stop paying for the phone at the very least (ye gods), is she working? Why not? And stop worry about her nascent alcoholism until her grades start slipping or something. Have a conversation about safe drinking. Your definition of safe needs to be flexible. My version of this included the following rules:

1. Once you throw up, you have to stop.
2. Never go swimming.
3. There must always be at least one sober person, capable of driving in an emergency etc.
4. Never get drunk alone.

You could expand that a little sure (I'd be tempted to add something about avoiding spirits or at least shots myself), but those rules really help with safety. If you want to go down the Reefer Madness route, there's plenty of data out there for the cherry picking regarding the effects of binge drinking - especially on adolescent minds. And you're daughter, like most people, is probably unaware that alcohol causes about 4% of all cancers, and increases the risk of breast cancer 1 1/2 times. But I don't recommend it. She's not a kid anymore; she won't respond to scary stories.
posted by smoke at 3:59 AM on March 14, 2012 [2 favorites]

Wait a second -- are you in the US? Because I am very much on board with having a frank conversation with her about safe drinking and all . . . unless she's actually putting more than her liver at risk by underage drinking.

Yes, the law is stupid and yes, the law is frequently ignored in college towns. But every now and then, from my experience, the law comes down like a ton of bricks on one or two students and can really screw over everything. A conviction, even an MIP, can mess her up down the road for grad school, professional licenses, etc. It's stupid but it's true. Your interests are indeed affected because if you are paying her tuition to lay the groundwork for her future, you absolutely deserve the assurance that she's not going to blow it all with a public intox / MIP conviction. [Also, consider: if this does happen, you'll feel the pressure to protect your daughter and the tuition money already laid out by hiring a lawyer.]

You can have a frank, adult conversation with her about drinking and still have your own boundaries that keep you feeling comfortable. If you don't want to support her lifestyle, you really don't have to. Even if she is 20, you should be able to ask her to appreciate what you do and to respect any conditions you may have. You don't have to sit in moral judgment and in fact, you must be very careful to avoid just touting a "drinking is bad" line.

Nevertheless, it is 100% reasonable to tell her, "By the way, please don't break the law while I'm supporting you." It's also best to have the conversations about safe drinking now -- that might help her see that you're not coming down in judgment, you're just treating her like an adult by expecting her to act like one.
posted by mibo at 4:32 AM on March 14, 2012 [1 favorite]

The AA Big Book mentions resentment as a primary trigger for alcohol abuse. Alcoholics sometimes drink as a way of saying "Fuck you, I'll hurt me" or "No one cares about what i want." your daughter is probably only experimenting like most college kids do, but your approaches will engender a lot of resentment.
posted by desjardins at 5:27 AM on March 14, 2012 [3 favorites]

College is the time when kids do things their parents won't approve of. It should only be an issue if it's irresponsible to the point where she is in danger - sleeping with people when drunk, too drunk to properly take precautions or give consent, doing dangerous acts etc - or it's affecting her behaviour/academic performance outside of her partying. Even if this is the case, you can't prohibit her behaviour. She is not a child. She is an adult and even if you are paying her way through college, it shouldn't be used like pocket money to be witheld if she does something you don't like. I made questionable choices at her age, but if I hadn't made them then I'd still be dating the rubbish boyfriends and drinking too much way beyond my college years, so I'm grateful I made those mistakes early.

Is there a reason why you don't drink? What attitudes to alcohol were around when she was growing up? I know from my student days that those most likely to drink excessively were those who hadn't got drinking out of their system when they were underage, or hadn't had access to alcohol at all before leaving home, making it forbidden fruit.

Hmm, I pretty sure Robin Hood couldn't even draw that bow. A clear call for help is: "I'm drinking too much, and I'm scaring myself, I need help." A clear call for help is not: "This two horse town sucks".

This was precisely why so many people drank underage where I grew up - there was just nothing else to do, and at an age when kids wanted to be grown up. Assuming you're in the US where she's still underage, this might be why she's partying so much - nothing to do, wanting to Be An Adult, trying things out.
posted by mippy at 5:35 AM on March 14, 2012

If she doesn't like the scene, look into transferring.

Exactly! Although if you're hoping you can find a college where drinking isn't a big deal, good luck. I attended a religious college AND a big city college, and both had more drinking than you'd think.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 6:33 AM on March 14, 2012

While I don't think that your assessment of her statement as a "clear call for help" is totally accurate, I do think that it sounds like something a young person says to explain or justify behavior she isn't proud of or happy with.

I'd approach it as a conversation that recognizes her as an adult, and at the same time expresses your concern for her well-being. Something like: "I really love it when I see you making choices as an adult and feeling good about them, such as [example--something she accomplished and feels proud of]. I felt concerned the other day when you said that there's nothing to do on campus but drink. I'm concerned that you might be taking risks and making choices with your drinking not because you want to or because it's fun, but because you feel like you don't have other options. Is there any truth to that?"

And then listen to her.

If she says that yeah, it's actually pretty boring, ask if she wants to think about transferring schools or if there might be a club or group on campus that could be a more interesting social scene. Emphasize that she has the power (and responsibility) to make choices on behalf of her own happiness and success. I think that's something college students often don't quite understand yet--they're experiencing a new level of freedom, both socially and academically, but they don't necessarily connect that freedom with personal agency. It's the difference between thinking, "I can party as much as I want because my parents aren't here to stop me," and thinking, "I choose what kind of social life I want to have."

If she says that no, she didn't really mean it or, "Oh my god dad, stop overreacting!"--stay calm. Talk about the tools you've already given her: "Your mom and I taught you to make smart choices and take responsibility for them. I trust that you're doing that, but when you say things like, 'Well, there's nothing to do but drink!' that sounds like an excuse to justify behavior you're not proud of. I want you to be making choices you're proud of, even if they're not the ones I would make." Be clear with your daughter that there's room in this dialogue for her to have a different opinion from you. If you insist that she should share your beliefs about alcohol, this conversation will go nowhere.

And if her grades start slipping, reassess: that's the time to say, "You're an adult, and you can make our own choices, but if your choice is to prioritize partying over studying, we need to talk about my role in funding your education." But don't start this dialogue with ultimatums. First, approach it as an opportunity to coach her in adult decision-making.
posted by Meg_Murry at 6:47 AM on March 14, 2012 [3 favorites]

As perhaps implied above, her complaint to you about the town having nothing to do but drink is actually a good sign. Even though she's partially caught up in this life, she also sees its inadequacies and wants to bond with older, wiser persons (yourselves) in critiquing it. That's an excellent basis for a healthy adult-parent relationship. Be grateful for her respect and trust; don't ruin it by taking an authoritarian stance she'll have to fight against to regain her autonomy.

Since you two don't drink at all, you can help her brainstorm weekend activities that aren't alcohol-related. Hiking? Tour the local potato-chip factory? Crop mob?

Don't expect that any success in this direction must be accompanied by a total absence of drunken partying. Just inspire her to be a bit more creative. If she brings Apples to Apples back to her dorm room, and some kids play drunk while others stay sober ... that's great.
posted by feral_goldfish at 7:03 AM on March 14, 2012

Do you know any of her friends who grew up in households with alcohol around, whom you could ask to keep an eye on your daughter? And by keep an eye on, I don't mean he should report your daughter's activities to you, but rather he could make sure she doesn't do anything unfortunate, or speak to her about how to pace herself. Basically, to give her the guidance that you and your wife, as teetotallers way back at home, probably lack the experience and access to give.

My parents also don't drink (well, they keep alcohol around, for hospitality) so I went off to college knowing very little about alcohol. I was lucky enough to have a room-mate who pulled me aside the first time we threw an apartment party and told me I shouldn't feel obliged to drink; later, I had some friends who taught me how to sip and count drinks and measure 30mL by eye, and another friend who was something of a beer snob and sold me on drinking as a matter of appreciation rather than whoo! drunk!. In four years I only once ever drank enough for anyone to notice that I was drunk. You probably wouldn't be happy if your daughter drank as much as I did, because it doesn't sound like you want your daughter to drink at all, but I doubt you would be worried.

By the way, how many years in is your daughter? At least on my campus, there was sort of a downward trend in drinking over the years: the freshmen were the really wild ones, mostly because of the novelty, and the upperclassmen were more settled.
posted by d. z. wang at 8:00 AM on March 14, 2012

There's probably quite a bit to do in her college town, but -assuming you're in the USA- I'd bet that it's almost all 21+ and so she and her friends can't access it yet. In my experience, the nonstop drinking & partying cycle decreased significantly after my social circle turned 21, as we could now go to bars, dance clubs, trivia nights, karaoke nights, and concerts that were 21+ and the focus at these places is more on socializing with alcohol as a conversational lubricant, rather than trying to get As Crazy Drunk As Possible (which is actually sort of frowned upon at these venues and a good way to get bouncers to notice you). Becoming totally wasted starts to be seen as a rookie's mistake, a sign of immaturity and poor restraint. It also helps that buying drinks at a bar or club is far more expensive than sharing a cheap bottle of rum, which reduces intake.

If her grades are OK and she otherwise enjoys her college, I'd wait and see. Turning 21 could help significantly with her complaints of "nothing to do but drink."
posted by castlebravo at 8:24 AM on March 14, 2012 [1 favorite]

Does she have a part time job now? If not, I feel like you are enabling her behavior. I don't think that the solution is to threaten to stop paying for college if she doesn't "shape up". Like others have said up-thread, that will just make her hide it from you. Instead I would frame things in terms of it is time for her to start becoming more financially responsible. Clearly she has extra time on her hands to pick up something part-time. Come up with a plan that will transition her to becoming more financially independent. Do you pay for her car (gas, insurance, repairs)? Her phone? These are responsibilities you could start transitioning over to her now. Don't make the need to get a part time job contingent upon her drinking habits. Most people have to work to survive (whether it be in college or after). The sooner she learns the value of a dollar and how to budget for necessities, the better off she will be able to manage money in the long-term. In addition to making her more responsible, having a job would likely (though not certainly) restrict the amount of time she spends drinking and with the boyfriend.
posted by TheCavorter at 10:03 AM on March 14, 2012 [3 favorites]

Sounds like your daughter is doing what, quite literally, millions of college students have done with no ill effects on their lives. Frankly, this is your problem, not hers. It is ludicrous to think you can or should have a veto over who your 20-year-old daughter is dating.

I think you should feel free to stop paying for her school, but don't do it to punish your child; do it because your child is an adult, making adult choices. You are under no obligation to subsidize them if you don't agree with them, but nor are you entitled to micromanage her behavior from afar via the pursestrings.
posted by dixiecupdrinking at 11:46 AM on March 14, 2012

My wife and I don't drink (at all) and we don't really know what to do.

My guess is that you are completely unqualified to decide if your daughter has a problem. Nothing you have written about her strikes me as the least bit out of the ordinary for a college student.

Your fears are understandable but not necessarily well-founded. The very furthest I would go if I were you is to tell your daughter that she's an adult and can make her own choices but to remember that addiction runs in the family. And I wouldn't necessarily go that far. It seems more likely that she would roll her eyes at her prudish parents than that it would help.
posted by callmejay at 11:47 AM on March 14, 2012

Threatening her with tuition will mean she drinks without ever telling you any problems she might have, or just untags herself from photos on Facebook. And if she continues to drink, she won't get an education-- how is that helping anyone?

I go to school full-time and work 30 hours a week, and I still drink like a fish. There's no responsibility problem here. Your sense of ownership over your daughter's life is suffocating and obnoxious. Trust me, I know quite a few college students with parents like yours who can't wait to move as far away from them as possible.
posted by stoneandstar at 11:49 AM on March 14, 2012 [2 favorites]

We believe that her statement that there's nothing to do but drink is a clear call for help, and that it is time for us to intervene.

Whoa. I know, I know, it's your baby girl, you've spent her whole life watching out for her, but sounds like you're operating on a lot of conjecture here. We all have things that we complain about or criticize. This does not necessarily mean "Here's A Big Problem Please Fix It."

C'mon, don't you hate it when people do this to you? If you came home from a day at work and said something offhand about how you just hate such-and-such aspect of your job, how would you feel if the response was "YOU CAN NOT QUIT YOUR JOB. FOR THE LOVE OF GOD THINK OF THE MORTGAGE AND GROCERIES AND YOUR FAMILY, WHAT'S WRONG WITH YOU."

Nearly every college kid throws out the "nothing to do but drink" complaint for one reason or another. (Actually, the phrase is usually "nothing to do but drink and screw," so she's protecting your delicate sensibilities a bit!) Example translations: I'm jealous of my friend who goes to school in NYC. I'm bored because I miss my close friends. I wish I were more popular. I got drunk at a party and I'm embarrassed by it. I got drunk at a party and had a great time. I flaked on my midterm and don't want to take responsibility for it. I don't like the taste of alcohol. I don't like being drunk. I do like the taste of alcohol. I do like being drunk. I want to shock my parents a little. I want to express that I am more sophisticated than the other kids. And so forth.)

So, her statement is not necessarily any kind of cry for help about drinking. Also, every college town has a reputation for drunkenness. Her boyfriend seems aimless because he's at an age where most kids are figuring out what they want to do...i.e. they don't have an aim yet. Pictures on Facebook are a poor way to determine her actual drinking habits or level of inebriation. (Note that the kids aren't posting many pictures of themselves writing term papers, and she could be much less or much more drunk that she is acting, or claims to be in comments or whatever.)

What should you do? Tell her that her statement concerned you. She what she says. Point out that she's making it seem via Facebook like she's doing a lot of drinking, and she should be aware that some people will judge her for that and that by the way, she's worrying the hell outta her parents. Find out what she wants to tell you and ask her what she wants your help with.

Basically, deal with your 20-year-old as a 20-year-old, don't try to drag her back to being 15. The whole point of parenting is so that your kid can make decisions on her own -- even ones with which you disagree, even mistakes -- and deal with it in an appropriate way. It's not any kind of progress for her parents to step in and take control over her behavior. Even if she is drinking too much.
posted by desuetude at 12:37 PM on March 14, 2012 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: You really care about your kid and it comes through in your post. You've watched her grow up, you've nurtured her, you've anxiously tried to guide her through troubling periods and smooth over any potholes. I'm guessing if you see an iota of danger your instinct is to sweep in and protect her, right? Now you're not able to do that any more because she is far away, and I'm sure you fret quite a bit over her well-being as a result.

The problem is in order for your daughter to continue growing into an adult while maintaining the kind of relationship with you that allows you to see pictures of drunken antics on Facebook (this is extremely out of the ordinary among the people I know) you have to let her learn to make choices for herself. Part of the process of learning to make choices is making bad choices and fucking up a little bit. You can tell a little kid to not touch a candle all day long, but until they feel the heat for themselves they're going to think you're just keeping them from the fun.

What your daughter is doing is the perfectly normal fucking up that millions of kids have done for time immemorial without any serious damage to their future careers, families, or health. Most likely within the next five years she will get bored of all of it and settle down. If you make it a Thing though, by trying to pull her out of college and cut out her boyfriend and all of that, well, that's going to make partying more attractive and the likelihood of eventual boredom less.

The alcoholism, that is a fear born of your extreme concern for her well-being, not out of any objective observations and facts. None of her behavior is abnormal for young people, the "nothing to do but drink" is not a cry of help but an expression of boredom.

Tell her about the family history of alcoholism without any DARE-style "YOU WILL DIE IN A CAR CRASH" lectures. If her grades start dropping, explain you expect a certain level of performance in order to continue paying her tuition, and you will support her in any way she needs in order to achieve that performance. Do not set restrictions on her social life--if her social life, etc is hurting her grades, she'll figure it out and will either meet the grade expectations or realize for herself that this is not the right time for her to be in college.

Most important: if you REALLY want to protect her, tell her you noticed the drunken antics on Facebook and say if there is ANY time when she needs you, ANY situation, she can call you and you will be there to get her, to listen, and to help without judgement or recrimination. If you can do this sincerely then if things get really bad she'll know she can trust you and will come to you first.
posted by Anonymous at 6:19 PM on March 14, 2012

Pomo: "Why are you paying her tuition, room, board, car, and phone, at that age? If you cut out at least one or two of those things, she might need to get a weekend mall gig to cover her expenses...maybe getting up early for a Sunday morning shift would have her thinking twice about binge-drinking Saturday night."

Oh come on. College is seriously the primary time in a person's life when they are largely free of both familial responsibilities and parental control. In my experience the amount you drank during college has little to no bearing on how successful/unsuccesful you are later on, and certainly no bearing on whether you end up as a decent human being or not.

If it's not a huge burden to pay her tuition etc, and if she is being conscientious about her studies during the rest of the week, let her have her fun.
posted by Deathalicious at 10:47 PM on March 14, 2012

Sure, Deathalicious, and I'm not saying that the drinking itself is a problem. As someone mentioned up-thread, it's more than possible to take a full courseload, work a solid part-time gig (or two) and party with the best of them. I've been there, and hope that I would fit your definition of a decent human being. But why should her parents pony up for the luxuries when she's not contributing at all? Cover tuition, sure. Rent, I guess. But why the car and phone? She's drinking on their dime and they certainly don't have to support that.
posted by Pomo at 2:45 PM on March 15, 2012

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