Aunty’s parents organised school holiday work at the local department store for me and I started around mid-December.  With the staff Christmas party only a few days away, all employees were invited and excited.  Mum and dad said I couldn’t go because I was only fourteen years old.  My co-worker said that was ridiculous saying, “If you are old enough to work, you are old enough to party.  If you can’t drink with your workmates, who can you drink with?”  This explanation sounded perfectly reasonable to me.  Off to the party I went.  So did my dad. He spotted me and then dragged me and my glass of wine out of the venue.  I am not sure if we ever did return that glass.

So who is wrong in this story? My dad for caring enough to come and take his under-age daughter home? Me for not seeing anything wrong with wanting to party and ignoring my parents’ requests to stay home? Or my colleague for wanting to include me in the festive fun?  To this day, I remain uncertain.  All I know is when you have kids, they do not come with an instruction manual.  You get a placenta and that is usually discarded.  The best that parents can do is to try to teach their kids right from wrong and hope some of their words of experience sink in.

People will try and tempt you to do the same as them, perhaps to justify their way is the right way.  Perhaps they believe they know better than you or just want you to enjoy what they are experiencing.  Their thought could be: ‘You are doing what I am doing, you are like me, so I like you”.  For example, when you are trying to lose weight and your friend begs, “Just have one piece because I’m going to.  One piece won’t hurt kill you”.

So you have the one piece of cake even though you have been so good cutting down on food intake and the friend is happy.  She still loves you.  Then you decide your diet is not working.  It didn’t stop you eating that cake, you obviously have no willpower so you might as well have another two pieces of cake and a chocolate milkshake to wash the crumbs down.

That same friend suggests, “Let’s go shopping and I’ll help you to spend your money”.  You have just committed to paying off your credit card and are on a strict budget.  You find yourself wondering, ‘Hey, what’s a few hundred dollars between friends?’ And she is your best friend after all.  So off to the shops you go to spend and spend again. And have coffee and more cake.

We used to go to the local hotel to see the wonderful bands playing.  We would drink lemonade and dance the night away.  The minute the music was over and the lights went on, we left the bar.  Because, once the band finished, the drinking began and fights broke out.  We knew that and, even if others begged us to stay, we exited the venue.

Learn to do your own risk assessment of situations and take time to understand both sides of choices on offer.  Saying no or deciding to leave when others are staying may not win you popularity contests.  Your friends might think it odd that you are willing to something different to what the crowd is doing.  But always do what is right for you. Self-compassion must always come first. Stand up for yourself and be courageous.  Be firm in your decision and know there is no shame in choosing differently from the rest.

We all have the power to say no on our own terms.  As parents, all we can do for our kids is to instil into them an inner strength so they can consider their options and make the right choice.  Every day we are faced with so many alternatives and temptations.  Our parents will not always be there to drag us out of parties or to make the wisest decision for us.  Having that inner strength is so very important.  When others make a different choice from yours, respect their decision.

Be strong enough to say no.