Restricting Your Teen’s Access to Alcohol: A Guide for Parents

Restricting your teen’s access to alcohol is one of the most important things you can do for them as a parent. There are highly-publicized risks of fatal alcohol poisonings and devastating car crashes due to drinking and driving, for example. But there are other, less-publicized risks that could be equally destructive to your teen’s health and well-being, such as increased risk of sexually transmitted diseases and unintended pregnancy, violence and rape, and suicide.

Teens are ill-equipped to handle the physical, mental or emotional consequences of drinking alcohol, but they have poor impulse control and a sense of invincibility and must contend with overwhelming peer pressure. They need consistent support and structure from their parents if they are going to avoid alcohol and its attendant repercussions.

Here are some guidelines for developing a zero-tolerance policy for alcohol for your children:

  • Start an ongoing dialogue early about alcohol: the risks, the ramifications, and your desire for your teen not to use alcohol. Emphasize abstinence from alcohol as part of your overall value system. Ask for a commitment not to use alcohol.
  • Offer praise for good decisions and guidance for mistakes. Working together to rectify a bad grade can be good practice for dealing with bigger problems in the future.
  • Help teens set short-term and long-term goals. Relate their goals to their physical endurance, mental acuity, and emotional fitness. Ask them how they think using alcohol could keep them from achieving their goals.
  • Invite mentors and other people your teen would not want to disappoint into the dialogue. Ask them to support your efforts to encourage abstinence from alcohol.
  • Train your children to ask, “Is it worth the risk?” Make sure they can apply the potential consequences you’ve discussed to real-life scenarios. Discuss the situations of people you know or those of people in newspaper and magazine articles and ask your teen to help you list the problems they have encountered as a result of drinking alcohol.
  • Model good behavior where alcohol is concerned. While it is true that it is legal for you to drink alcohol, teens have very little tolerance for what they perceive as hypocrisy, and they often fail to make distinctions when making judgments.
  • Keep alcohol locked up and out of sight. Many adolescents, and even pre-adolescents, begin experimenting with alcohol in their own homes.
  • Monitor situations where temptation can occur: for example, when your teen participates in unsupervised group activities or attends events, such as weddings, where alcohol is being served to adults.
  • Limit your teen’s attendance at parties, both in number and in length of time spent. Make a pact to pick your teen up at any time, from any place, with no questions asked until the following morning when you are both calm. Limit sleepovers unless they are at your house under your supervision.
  • Communicate with the parents of your teen’s friends. Ask what they are doing to ensure that the children don’t have access to alcohol when they are under their supervision. Share situations (not names) that you have discussed with your teen; their responses will help you determine whether or not you are on the same wavelength regarding teens and access to alcohol. Tell them you welcome feedback on how your child behaves when you are not present and that you will not reveal the source of the information.
  • Observe other parents’ efforts to restrict minors’ access to alcohol. Offer to help chaperone at events your child will attend. Be careful – even “good people” have erroneous ideas about teaching teens to “drink responsibly” under their supervision. Make sure your teen understands that even if another parent is allowing the use of alcohol, your teen does not have your permission to partake and should come home immediately.
  • Keep your teen busy. Kids often get into trouble when they have too much unsupervised free time. Invest time and effort into helping your teens find safe, fun ways to spend their time, such as participating in faith-based activities.
  • Adopt a trust-but-verify policy. Even “good kids” can find themselves in difficult situations. Your teen doesn’t have the benefit of your years of wisdom and experience. Explain the risks of being in the wrong situation; even if your teen doesn’t drink, being present at a party where teens are drinking can have serious consequences. Monitor your teen’s – and your teen’s friends’ – Facebook and MySpace pages.

And, last but certainly not least, realize that your teen is vulnerable to making poor choices every day. Don’t let your guard down. Finding a balance between being too controlling and allowing too much freedom will require constant effort, but it is a worthwhile endeavor. Your teen’s health and happiness may depend on it.