Try being their parents, the hapless people held responsible when it all goes wrong and they wind up working in a lap-dancing bar. (Apologies to the friend whose child does indeed work in such a place – I know it wasn't your fault and she is behind the bar, not on the pole, and probably earns more than me anyway.)
Unfortunately there's no right and wrong, no definitive manual telling us how to make sure our kids survive long enough to choose our care homes. But how do parents cope with the teenage years and the sex, drugs, alcohol and rampant materialism that drives them to demand the latest labels and gadgets?
Given that it's not possible to send children to their rooms until they emerge years later as fully formed adults – an approach some teenage boys might welcome as long as they had their games consoles – how do we bring them up to avoid under-age sex, drugs, alcohol and an addiction to the latest trends and technology?
It's something we're failing to do at the moment, with the most recent available figures (2008-09) published by the NHS in the Scottish Schools Adolescent Lifestyle and Substance Use Survey reporting that 82 per cent of 15-year-olds and more than half of all children aged 13 had drunk alcohol. And with schools kicking more than 500 pupils out of the classrooms last year because of drink and drugs incidents, and a third of teenagers having sex before the age of consent at 16, are we powerless to stop it happening? Perhaps all that's left for us to do is make it safer.
"A lot of the sex, drugs and alcohol issues are problems because moral behaviour is changing and the hold of religion and marriage is so much reduced, therefore today's parents have to come to terms with current morality and think about things more," says Patrick Boase, director of Parent Network Scotland, which works to improve family relationships. "They can't just fall back on hard and fast rules like no sex before marriage
"We have to think about what's appropriate for our children because what's right for yours is not right for another person's. With primary kids, you can lay down the law but teenagers have to be negotiated with. They don't see parents as the ultimate authority and care more what friends think, so it works better if parents negotiate, for example on how late to stay out and over sex and alcohol. If we just say 'no sex or drugs', we won't be listened to or respected. The biggest challenge is to be prepared to talk about a subject they don't know about, such as drugs."
While the experts attempt to get to the bottom of the problem, two families are taking different approach on how to deal with these issues now.
Chris Baxter, 43, an organic farmer from East Lothian, is a single parent with a 15-year-old daughter and a 14-year-old son. She is well aware of the difficult issues teenagers face but has a fairly broad-minded attitude to parenting and believes in keeping the lines of communication open. "You're best to be able to talk about it with them and point out the down-side of doing things. That way you're more able to keep them safe and know what they're doing," she says.
"I was really disappointed that my daughter started having sex with her boyfriend when she was 15, and made it clear how I felt, but I was also determined that we would be able to talk about it. When I was 14, I was doing it and taking drugs, so while it's not what I would have wished,my children are better-behaved than I was. I would have liked them to hold on until they were older, but then I'm able to talk about it with them. I would have been hammered if I'd talked about it with my parents. It's the same with bringing home boyfriends. We never took them back home when the parents were in. You had to wait until your mum and dad were out or go somewhere outside.
"I wish my children had somewhere else to go because I find it really difficult, very uncomfortable. It's just not on when there are other people in the house. If I met a nice bloke I wouldn't sneak off to the bedroom with him while they were sitting watching Hollyoaks, would I? It's about discretion."
"My daughter has the odd glass of wine or cider in a safe environment, in the home. There has always been drink around the house as it's not a taboo thing for us. Also, I do give them alcohol to take to parties, which is my attempt at being responsible. I give my son a few bottles of Becks and my daughter a few Bacardi Breezers, but I suspect the first thing they do is swap it for a bottle of vodka when they get there. However, there are usually adults around at any parties they go to. They have both been horribly drunk in the past and it has definitely put them off."
"They're not an issue. There's an old lump of hash that has been sitting ignored in my kitchen cupboard for the past few years and nobody has found it or shown any interest in it. They've not caught on to the drug thing, although they sit glued to Skins and Shameless. If they did try it, I would say, 'Stupid buggers, what did you go and do that for?' and explain the down-sides. But you can't keep them locked up and you can't beat the living daylights out of them either – for one thing, it's against the law, and for another, they're bigger than me. Plus, I think being hit made me more secretive and more careful not to get found out."
"Occasionally I give in, but not too often, as I don't have the money. They want things but it's really difficult for them to earn the money to get them. It's harder for them to get jobs than it was for me – I had three when I was my daughter's age. Now there's nothing for them in rural areas so it isn't as easy for them to be able to grow up, cut ties and earn their own money and become less reliant on their parents."
Alan, 41, and Linsey, 38, Crooks, of Blackwood, South Lanarkshire, a chartered surveyor and a primary school teacher and freelance worker for Unicef, have three daughters, aged 12, nine and four. "They're not teenagers yet but the eldest is almost there, and forewarned is forearmed," says Alan, who has just completed the course Drug-Proofing Your Kids, run by the Christian organisation Care for the Family. "I feel I've done it at a very good time because if they were 14 and 15 I might have made a rod for my own back already," he says. "Kids need boundaries, but you have to agree what they should be."
"I have a very strict set of rules. I would be completely against my daughters having sex under age. It wouldn't be just from a parent/child point of view but because I have Christian beliefs and would be disappointed if that happened. But I also see what's going on in the world and am not unrealistic about what they're exposed to. We used to try to prevent them from watching certain TV programmes, but where do you stop? Practically every programme encourages a role model where people are having sex, and they're going to be exposed to it. I cringe at the thought of children having under-age sex, and I can't believe that most parents wouldn't too, but it might be a consequence of the fact that they're too busy working. You have to have standards you expect your children to attain."
"I don't drink but my wife does. AA strongly recommends that you don't give children alcohol before 18, because every year before that age increases the chance of them becoming alcoholics. I think we have a bad attitude to alcohol in Scotland, where it's not about going out to have a good time, it's about having a lot to drink to have a good time. It's not that way in other European countries. Here, girls of 19 and 20 will go out to get drunk, whereas you would be seen as a lady of ill repute if you did that in Germany. But in a safe environment, in the family home with a parent, a beer with the football between the ages of 16 and18, I'm fairly relaxed about."
"Parents are scared to face up to the fact their children might take drugs, but there are so many available it's inevitable that they're going to be offered some. Since doing the Drug-Proofing course, we feel more comfortable about the whole issue – what drugs look like and how to react. You have to ask yourselves how well you know your kids. Has their behaviour changed? Who are their friends? What embarrasses, motivates, scares them? We need to tell them we love them and show unconditional love. If they think you don't love them, they look for it elsewhere."
"We have found this a challenge. We haven't given them TVs in their own rooms because there is so much we don't want them watching, but we gave up the dining room to create a playroom where we can monitor computer use. We don't pander to their every need, and when they get things it's for birthdays or holidays. We are encouraging them to think about other kids and be content with what they have. At first we said they had to be at high school to get a mobile phone, but now the nine-year-old has one, on safety grounds, so we can get hold of her too."
The National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children advises that under-12s are rarely mature enough to be left alone for long. A child of 12 may legally purchase a pet.
A this age a child can legally: consume (but not buy) wine, beer or cider, but not spirits, with a meal; join the armed forces; hold a licence to drive a moped, tractor or mower; marry; and leave home.
This article was first published in The Scotland on Sunday, April 18, 2010