When Parents are Teens’ Bartenders

Q: My 16-year-old daughter went to a party where the parents were providing alcohol and cigarettes to the kids and drinking with them. What should I do?”

A: We all know that youth are curious, experimenters, pleasure-seekers, and often make poor choices. That makes us, as parents, responsible for role modeling healthy behavior involving alcohol and drug use.

It also makes us responsible for having a discussion about drugs and alcohol at school, in other’s homes, and at teens’ parties. This can put you in a very uncomfortable position, but you should not avoid it.

As parents, we need to have realistic information about this issue, we need to have good questions for our kids to consider, and we need to talk with parents who believe that allowing substance use in their home is safe and instructive.

I assume that you and your daughter have talked about substance use, including alcohol, drugs, cigarettes, medications and inhalants.

Hopefully, this is an ongoing conversation that incorporates the fact that teens change, their friends’ change, as do their opinions. What did your daughter’s think about parents providing alcohol, and drinking and smoking with teens? Do you both know:

    • A 1993 study of 15,000 students by the Minnesota-based Johnson Institute showed that permissiveness at home affects adolescent choices more than peer pressure.
    • The University of Minnesota’s School of Public Health found that teens whose parents or friends’ parents provided alcohol for parties were more likely to drink, get into traffic crashes, get involved in violence, and participate in thefts.
    • 1998 study sponsored by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation found that 96 percent of Americans view underage drinking as a significant problem. 83 percent of respondents favored punishment of adults who provide the liquor. “Underage drinking is a factor in nearly half of all teen automobile crashes,” states RWJ vice president Nancy Kaufman. “It also contributes to suicides, homicides, and fatal injuries, and is a factor in sexual assaults and date rapes.”
    • According to the journal Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research, (February 2008), parents who monitor their children may lower their odds of drinking, while excessive discipline might have the unintended effect of pushing teenagers to drink.

A Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) survey estimates that when parents “bargain” with their kids and let them drink as long as they promise not to drive, teens are more likely to drive after drinking or be in a car with someone who is drinking.

Ask your daughter what she agrees with about these studies. What does she disagree with? Why? Ask her about binge drinking. The Centers for Disease Control reports that one-third of high school age youth are binge-drinkers.

Do any of the kids at these parties drink until they pass out? Who watches to make sure they keep breathing all night? Does she know any kids from the area who have died due to abusing alcohol or drugs, or using them together?

As always, your best clue to what your daughter needs from you is learning about her opinions on the issues, the thoughts and actions of her friends, and her goals for herself. Once you know where she stands, then you can know where you agree and can support her.

In those areas of disagreement, it will be very important how you set the boundaries and limits that you believe are your responsibility. I hope she is one of the teens who isn’t interested in drugs and alcohol and has friends who feel the same way.

Parents must talk to one another about supporting their teens in not using alcohol and drugs. It is illegal. There is a reason for an age limit. Teenage brains have not matured sufficiently to carefully weigh consequences of behavior. Kids under the influence of drugs can make really bad decisions – it can cost lives.

Therefore, don’t be shy. Don’t think that others are doing this important work for you. Talk to each other. Ask your fellow parents these difficult questions. Is liquor accessible at other parents’ homes? Do they have a locked liquor cabinet with the key inaccessible?

Where do they keep their prescribed medications when a party is going on? How do they supervise parties? What happens if someone sneaks liquor in? What do they do if they find kids in bed together?

Don’t be surprised if you get some parents who think it is fine for kids to drink at their house. They may believe that taking keys and serving low alcohol beer protects the kids.

Share some of the research mentioned here with them. These same parents may have some problems of their own with drinking. They may also appear lax and yet be very punitive when the freedom they give backfires.

It could be useful for parents to share common knowledge about local parties that went wrong. Parents should openly share the stories about kids in car wrecks, kids having unwanted sex, police issuing tickets to kids and parents when a “disturbing the peace” violation was called in.

Handouts on legal liability issues for providing liquor to youth should be distributed through the schools to all parents. Instead of acting as if the negative scenarios are exceptions, we need to share that these can be predictable outcomes to teens when their brains have been turned off by imbibing in a substance.

Parents make a BIG difference in their teen’s choices about drinking. Research supports setting limits and boundaries for youth around drugs and alcohol. The goal isn’t to be cool and hip. A parent’s goal is to provide a healthy environment for kids to learn, grow and make their own decisions when they are ready.

If you meet with an argument that young people will experiment with drugs anyway, remind the other parent that is different from using drugs and alcohol with adult approval.

Parents get to say no to certain events that aren’t safe for kids. We have to ask the tough questions when we don’t know how other parents are supervising a party. We have to be willing to be unpopular when we set limits.

We have to be role models for responsible alcohol use. We get to be part of creating a safer world for our kids. It might make a big difference in the life of someone we love.

Categories: Teens, Tweens & Teens