DEAR HARRIETTE: My daughter is a freshman in high school. Last weekend, she came home from a party and vomited. My husband and I were unaware that she and her friends had been drinking because we have never spoken to her about the dangers of drugs and alcohol. We are very disappointed with her and are unsure how we are supposed to teach her a lesson. We have spoken to some of her friends' parents; they are not doing anything about this, and we think that's wrong. Should we ground her and not let her hang out with those people anymore? Or did she learn her lesson just by getting sick? We are very against underage drinking, and it will not stand in our house. -- Concerned Parents, Chicago
DEAR CONCERNED PARENTS: I encourage you to go back and read your own words. You have expressed concern, outrage and judgment in your reaction to your daughter's drinking. All of these emotions are valid, and what's most important is for you and your husband to change your approach as your daughter grows up. This incident should not be the reason for your talking to her about alcohol and drugs. The easiest time to talk to children about those topics, as well as puberty and sex, is when they are younger.
You say you absolutely won't permit underage drinking in your house. Does your daughter know that? Anyway, she didn't drink at home. Do not assume you know what lesson your daughter may have learned. You must sit down with her for a series of discussions about cause and effect -- when you do X, Y happens. Help her to understand the perils of certain activities, including hanging out with friends who break the law or participate in dangerous behavior. I wouldn't necessarily ban her from this friend group yet, though. Instead, get to know them. And by all means, establish ground rules that your daughter understands and agrees to follow.