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Underage Drinking in the Age of Foolishness

In the last several weeks, generic my teenage clients have relayed their experiences of graduation parties.  While one was a senior, several others were underclassman who were invited to an adult supervised graduation party.  Many kids attended multiple parties, often with 50-100 students.  In numerous examples, supervision was responsible, and yet fun and laughter remained abundant.

However, three examples were relayed by students which were alarming.  In these situations, parents sponsored large parties, included kegs of beer, and hard liquor.  While keys were taken from kids (showing as least a modicum of intellect), alcohol use was extreme.  Of course, in this environment with large numbers, drug use was happening as well.

As you might expect, some kids called their mom or dad, and went home early.  Some remained, and managed themselves well.  However, many stayed all night, consumed excess alcohol, and were still unable to function 24 hours later.

What’s Wrong with This Picture?

For most of us, we get it.  We understand that this is a setup for serious problems.  We would never put ourselves in such a situation.  However, some do not… so let’s review it quickly:

  • It’s illegal. Plain and simple.
  • Kids could be injured, and liability is increased…as it should be for stupidity.
  • With large numbers and alcohol use, uninvited guests inevitably join the party.
  • With large numbers and alcohol use, uninvited drugs inevitably join the party.
  • Responsible supervision is impossible in these situations.
  • Many teens will become belligerent and difficult with alcohol use.
  • Parents will not be able to control the situation, so they must live in denial.

How to be responsible and realistic with your teen.

Many parents ask me about how to find a reasonable position, as their 17-year-old is going to drink alcohol and they will be going to multiple parties.  Here are a few thoughts, that may help keep you on track.

  1. When it comes to parities, trust your own eyes only.

Too often, how a party is represented is very different than what is really happening.  It is often best to inspect with your own eyes.  In one situation this spring, a parent arrived at a good friend’s house to find the kegs of beer openly displayed on the deck.  This was never mentioned prior to his arrival.

  1. Manage expectations wisely and openly.

If you are concerned about alcohol use being excessive, set your kids expectations about what will happen.  Perhaps you will let them stay a while, but not all night.  If so, let them know this.  If your son is 15 and many kids are 18, you would want him to know that he’s coming home immediately if there is open alcohol use perhaps.  Be honest, open and unemotional…and be willing to take action even if your adolescent is disappointed.

  1. Always insist your kids call you, if they need a ride and alcohol has been consumed.

This is no brainer.  It’s a huge relief for kids to know that you will pick them up, without a hassle, and transport them (and friends perhaps) when alcohol has been consumed.  It is the ‘no questions asked’ policy that will allow this to help keep your child safe.

  1. Abandon being best friends with your teen.

When poor parent judgement is involved, too often I find a parent who seems to want to be friends with the teenagers.  They like being the parent ‘who is cool.’  In this, it seems that their judgement is impaired and their reasoning is lost.  Yes, I understand the idea that you don’t want your kids drinking without supervision (and they often WILL be drinking at parties), but you really can’t supervise a hundred kids.  It’s hard to keep a close eye on 15.

If you know a parent who has taken this path, this is a warning signal for poor judgment.  I find they compromise what’s right in service of staying cool with their teen.  This is a recipe for a huge problem.

Bottom line:  Be realistic.  Many kids will consume alcohol.  While you can’t control it all, you can control whether you endorse your teen remaining at a party that is growing out of control.  Only trust what you inspect, and take action accordingly.  And finally, manage all the teenage years in this manner, and then the graduation party will not be a surprise or an exception.