As an adult you know you did plenty of stupid things when you were a teen. Maybe that’s why teen drinking is a growing problem. Maybe our guilt as parents prevents us from being too strict about teenage drinking. To add fuel to the fire, hundreds of times a day our children see and hear TV, radio and Internet messages that support and/or glamorize getting drunk. On TV when someone gets a raise they have a drink. When they finalize their divorce they have a drink. When they feel depressed they have a drink. When they need a few laughs they have a drink.
It’s an uphill battle for parents that want their kids to avoid the downsides of alcohol abuse. But what the heck you say, it’s just a “Right of passage.” If you rationalize letting teens drink at your house because “At least they’re not driving” then you’re asking for more trouble than you can imagine. Teenage drinking is at epidemic levels and getting worse. Not just for teens that drink but for the parents that don’t consider it a big deal.
Social host liability laws are now nationwide and the adults that let illegal teen drinking occur are going to make for some painful situations for their teens and their family.
Furthermore, the adults don’t have to be home to be held liable. Every city may have its own set of social host laws. Regardless, nationwide, social host laws will hold adults accountable for teens drinking. Jail time, fines, community service, and plenty of embarrassment are a few of the consequences but the real consequence comes when there is some accident or assault that occurs. The consequences of that last one go on forever.
The fact is this. All states now have zero tolerance laws. That means if you are under the age of 21 and you get behind the wheel of a car you are breaking the law if there is any level of booze in your body. No exceptions. That means one drink, two, or three. Hard liquor or wine. It seems that if that officer smells a bottle cap’s worth of moonshine on your breath that teen is going to be wearing silver bracelets right there.”
If you’re the kind of parent that likes to tie one on once in a while and don’t see any harm in letting young adults experience the joys of booze then you need a little reality check. Teenager are getting killed far too often after a few drinks and a little time behind the wheel. But our teenagers don’t necessarily suffer the consequences of poor choices all by themselves. Unfortunately, they usually take a few more victims with them. This isn’t moral preaching here, this is fact.
Let your teenagers drink and the likelihood of someone or something getting hurt goes way up. Could be a drunk-driving incident, could be alcohol abuse, could be sexual assault, and the list of wonderful side effects of being a little over-permissive go on and on.
Do yourself a favor and check your local laws about social hosting (providing the place for underage drinking and/or the alcohol) and make sure you and your children’s friend’s parents are aware of their legal and moral responsibility. Here are a few things you can do as a parent when your child is going to someone else’s house for a party or just a little hang time.
1. ASK YOUR KIDS QUESTIONS. Who is going to be there? Where are the parents? Is this a boy/girl situation? What’s the occasion? Will there be drinking or drugging there? (That last one is a bit blunt but it’s a good idea to teach your kids how to be direct and blunt too!)
2. CALL THE OTHER PARENTS. Yeah, you’re going to be appreciated and rejected at the same time. Other parents may not appreciate the fact that you would question them about this while other parents will be very appreciative of your inquiry.
3. SAY NO. If you have any suspicions that something is amiss, it probably is. If you don’t get the answer you wanted to hear out of your teenager or the parents you’re quizzing, then it’s time to muster up your adult courage and say “Nope! This isn’t happening tonight, we’ve got to find some options!” Then, find an alternative and sponsor it yourself. “You can’t go to the party but I’ll be glad to give you and three of your friends tickets to the movies, bowling, roller skating, etc.” Offer to make a big batch of their favorite snacks and rent a few movies at your house. Get creative but get real. Saying “no” doesn’t get any easier as your teenager becomes more and more independent.
When your kids accuse you of not trusting them, let them know it is not a matter of trust when it comes to the power of drugs and alcohol, it’s a matter of facts. People do stupid things under the influence and as a parent you know the facts.
Even though you may trust your child, you cannot trust people you don’t know or the persuasive power of “group think” when there’s other influences like peer pressure and booze pressure. By the way, parents also face an awful lot of peer pressure. They want to be “cool parents” for their kids and they don’t want to be the “prudes” down the street.
4. SAY YES. If you are comfortable that things are safe then go ahead and give your blessings. And, let your child know there are times when she has to call you and check in regardless of what the event is. Good times to check in are when they arrive, just before they leave to come home, just before bedtime (if a sleepover), etc.
If for some reason they forget to call you (and they will) then teach them that this is not acceptable and YOU pick up the phone and dial them. If they don’t answer their cell phone you might be a little suspicious. It’s a good idea to just make it a very simple rule. When your teen is away from home and you call, they better answer the phone. Of course, if your teen is in a movie theater and can’t pick up the phone or dial you they can call back when it’s over. If your kids get a little paranoid that you’re checking up on them then that’s not a bad thing.
Keep talking to other parents and make sure you let those who call you know how much you appreciate their concern. Make a pact with other parents whenever you can to check in with each other and compare notes.
5. PREPARE FOR SCREW UPS. If your teenage blows it and makes a mistake it’s important to have a plan. If he gets behind the wheel of a car and he’s afraid to call you or a cab then everyone is in real danger. Start repeating this over and over to your teen. No matter when, where, or under what circumstances it happens, if you make a mistake and get into a situation where there are drugs or drinking, your parents will always come and get you anytime, anywhere with no questions asked.
If your teen is in a predicament where there is drinking taking place and she needs a way to extricate herself then give her a private code between the two of you that she can use when she calls home. She can call you and pretend to have an argument about why she should not come home. That way she can save face with her friends and maybe her life. Say this over and over because it could save some serious heartache.
If you make a habit of asking questions of your kids and their friend’s parents your kids may begin to wonder if you have eyes in the back of your head. They may be surprised to find out that you heard about so-and-so getting into trouble at the last party because your kids certainly weren’t going to share that with you. Being in-the-know is good for you and good for your kids.
Never forget – it is your job as a parent to protect your teens as long as you can. Keeping them away from alcohol until they are able to make adult-like decisions will work to everyone’s advantage. Studies have proven that the longer your child avoids alcohol and drugs the better chance they have of living a life free of its many painful consequences.