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In fact, one child-development expert says teens need to talk back in order to assert their independence and explore their individuality. This guy says the job of parents is to help children talk back in ways that aren’t destructive to our relationships.

No. Really. Read that again.

(I’m not going to include this guy’s name out of concern for his safety. This kind of ridiculous assertion could get his house egged by a whole bunch of moms who are sick of being “dissed” by their own children.)

We shortchange our children when we drop our standards in this way. Instead of giving them ideals to reach, we give them excuses for failing to try.

Then we ought not wonder why teens talk back and later, with friends, toast their newfound independence with a case of beer swiped from mom and dad’s fridge.

Setting an expectation of success is just one half of the equation, however. The other half is the decision on the part of teens that an alcohol-free youth is worth the effort.

At some point, our daughters simply decided that whatever the social rewards might be of partying, they weren’t worth the commensurate loss of self-respect (and a hangover, to boot).

It turns out, according to my daughters anyway, that avoiding teen drinking isn’t all that complicated. Because everyone knows who the partyers are, it’s simply a matter of avoiding their parties. Once you decline an invitation or two, you get a reputation as someone who isn’t interested. You gravitate toward others who share your social style. You hang out. You have fun. You stay sober.

I’m willing to consider the possibility that I’m oversimplifying this issue. Teens drink for a host of reasons, from feeling insecure and desiring to fit in to succumbing to peer pressure and even, sadly, escaping depression. Clearly, the current generation of teens drinking to excess is yearning to quench a thirst — one that seems to be generating from the heart.

That’s a thirst parents need to address.

Then again, perhaps more of us should just decide not to give in to the prevailing assumption that all teens drink. When we stand confidently behind our children and communicate our belief that they can outperform the norm, they may take that challenge. It’s worth the effort because success and genuine self-esteem are the best high of all.

You never know — for more teens, sober could become the new normal.

Columnist Marybeth Hicks, a wife of 20 years and mother of four children, lives in the Midwest. She is the author of “The Perfect World Inside My Minivan One Mom’s Journey Through the Streets of Suburbia,” a compilation of her columns. She uses her column to share her perspective on issues and experiences that shape families nationwide. Visit her Web site (www.mary or send e-mail to