Alcohol Access and Your Teen: Is Your Teen Mature Enough to Drink?
March 12, 2009
So your teen is having some friends over to “hang out.” Your teen wants you to provide a movie, snacks, and a six-pack of beer. Should you do it? Isn’t it safer to have your teen home with you so you can provide supervision? When you were young, the drinking age was 18, and you turned out fine. Isn’t it more important to teach your teen to be a responsible drinker than to abide by a law that features an arbitrary age limit?
Some parents do provide teens with alcohol, or simply look the other way when their teens drink, espousing a “kids will be kids” attitude. They think there is nothing they can do to stop the teen from drinking. They fear their teen’s reaction to a strict prohibition against drinking. They want to be their teen’s friend because they want to keep the lines of communication open.
Some parents think that if the teen only drinks alcohol in their own home, the parents will be in control of the amount consumed. They think they can keep watch over their teen to make sure that nothing bad happens while the teen is intoxicated. They reason that at least this way, their teen isn’t driving drunk or riding with another drunk teen. They rationalize that if they let the teen’s friends sleep over, everyone will be safe.
But these parents aren’t taking many facts into account that refute the notion that parents should allow underage children to drink:
- Teenagers are not physically, mentally or emotionally ready to be under the influence. Even one alcoholic drink is too much for their developing bodies and brains.
- For every year under the age of 21 a teenager begins drinking alcohol, they are five times more likely to battle a lifetime of alcohol abuse and dependence (National Institute on Drug Abuse, 2005)
- Adolescent use of alcohol increases the risk of dependence because teens’ brains are not fully developed. The prefrontal cortex, which we use to assess situations, help us use good judgment, and keep our emotions and desires under control, does not develop completely until we are in our early 20s (NIDA, 2007)
- Teenagers may look mature, but their bodies are still developing. They require a lower level of consumption of alcohol to obtain a rapid “high,” which means their judgment is affected almost immediately, but they also have increased levels of alcohol tolerance, making it easy for them to overindulge.
- Teenagers are emotionally immature. They are still learning about themselves, relationships, and what direction they should take in life. Because even a small amount of alcohol reduces inhibitions and impairs judgment, they may react emotionally while under the influence without considering the consequences of their behavior.
- The use of alcohol by teens increases the risk of activities that may result in serious long-term consequences, including:
- Use of other drugs (alcohol is a gateway drug because its use compromises judgment and reduces inhibitions)
- Driving under the influence
- Alcohol poisoning from binge drinking (teens often binge drink to relax and may participate in drinking games that result in ingestion of large quantities of alcohol in a short period of time)
- Increased sexual activity and multiple sexual partners due to lowered inhibitions, which increases the risk of pregnancy and/or sexually transmitted diseases
- Exacerbation of underlying, perhaps undiagnosed, mental illness
- Violence and rape (whether the victim is under the influence or not)
Parental accountability for social hosting is on the rise. Twenty-four states have enacted social hosting laws to hold adults criminally responsible for providing alcohol to minors. No state makes it legal for an adult to provide alcohol to other people’s children. Civil suits can result in the loss of many or all of a person’s assets – whether they knew alcohol was being served in the home or not. Turning a blind eye is not an excuse.
When you host a gathering for your teen, you must tighten your resolve. Avoid being a friend and focus on your role as the parent. The following tips will help you through the process:
- Set expectations with your teen ahead of time. Make sure your teen knows that you will not allow alcohol (or other drugs) at the party and that this is communicated to all guests. Ask your teen to tell you about any concerns she or he has about any of the guests or any situations that could occur. Make your neighbors aware of the party and enlist their help in monitoring the area.
- Make a guest list with your teen. Limit the number of teens so you can be sure of adequate chaperonage. Be sure you have contact information on each teen’s parent. Make sure guests and their parents understand that if a teen leaves the party, she or he won’t be allowed to return and parents will be called. Make sure parents who won’t be chaperoning know the start and end times of the party and will prearrange transportation.
- Limit guest access to certain areas of the house and property. Lock up all valuables, breakables, alcohol and weapons. Plan activities to occupy the guests. Provide plenty of snacks, soda and water. Set an example by not providing alcohol for any adults who are present. Regularly move through the party unannounced and as inconspicuously as possible, checking any off-limit areas. Collect all keys so you can keep track of who is arriving and leaving. Keep coats and purses in an area that can be monitored. Speak to each person before they leave; check for warning signs of impairment.
- If a guest arrives at the party already under the influence of alcohol or other drugs, keep them there while you call a parent to pick them up. If the guest leaves and someone is hurt or injured, you could be held responsible.