Teenage drinking remains a troubling problem for parents, educators and communities in 2016. An estimated 4,300 teens die every year from alcohol, whether from excessive consumption or driving while impaired. At this time of year, concerns about underage drinking escalate—we’re in the middle of Homecoming season, which means not only getting dressed up for a dance and decorating the gym, but also high school parties afterward. And it’s not strictly Homecoming that should be on parents’ radars: Teens sometimes view fall Friday nights as “Go to the football game, then find a party.”
Nonetheless, Homecoming is the big milestone for many teens each fall, and their goal to make it memorable may unfortunately involve booze. Protecting students at this time, as well throughout the entire year, should be a priority, and one way to do so is to encourage high school parties and events without an alcohol element. Here are some tips for achieving this objective and keeping teens safe:
Work With Schools
Educators aim to protect students as much as parents do. Therefore, working with schools to ensure Homecoming weekend and other events are as alcohol-free as possible can produce concrete results. For example, a dance with more chaperones means more eyes on kids who may have snuck a flask in. Security patrolling the parking lots can help prevent students going to their cars at halftime to drink. Schools can also send out very clear messages about what is and isn’t acceptable before, during and after Homecoming and other events.
Efforts such as these reduce the number of students getting drunk before they ever make it to the party.
Renting a limousine was once considered a way to keep kids safe, specifically from drinking and driving. The limo takes them from the dance to the party or the beach, and they theoretically are safer. However, this practice might unintentionally encourage teens to drink more; even if the limo’s bar is not stocked, sneaking a bottle of something in is too easy. If you are worried about your kids on the road on Homecoming night, offer to drive them yourself. That will surely get a groan from them, but as chauffeur, you at least know they won’t be drinking in your vehicle, much less drinking and driving.
No Alcohol … Even If You Host
Another well-meaning strategy parents have tried is hosting high school parties and allowing alcohol to be served. Again, the idea is that the kids aren’t driving and are thus safer in your home, under your supervision. Unfortunately, this is a terrible idea—teenagers are not safe no matter where they drink. They might binge and get sick; they might pass out and be vulnerable; and if you have a pool, alcohol and water absolutely do not mix. Regardless of the teenagers surroundings, alcohol is dangerous everywhere; not only can their altered behaviors lead them to undesirable situations, but alcohol consumption can actually impede teenagers’ brain development!
Moreover, you can be criminally and civilly liable if a minor drinks in your home at a party you were hosting (particularly if you provided the alcohol) - and especially if something goes terribly wrong after they were drinking at your party. If you choose to host an after-Homecoming party, set clear expectations, keep any alcohol out of sight, secure any prescription medications (because some teens will rifle through your medicine cabinet looking for pills) and be vigilant.
Work With Teens To Plan Parties
High school parties without alcohol can still be fun, no matter how much your teens protest. If you do offer to host, work with your kids to plan the party. Let them decide what food will be served, what non-alcoholic beverages to offer, what the entertainment will be, and, if you allow a sleepover, what they will be making their guests for breakfast. Just as importantly, work with them on setting party rules (for example, what areas of the house are off-limits) and establishing a firm cap on the number of friends invited. Engaging your teens in the process gives them incentive to make the safe party a success.
Inevitably, your teens may find themselves at high school parties with alcohol and must decide whether or not to drink. Delivering strong messages to teens that drinking at this age is unacceptable and not safe can go a long way in the choice they ultimately make. Though your kids may feel like everyone is drinking, the reality is, most don’t; in fact, only about one in nine adolescents between the ages of 12 and 17 use alcohol. A simple but direct message such as that helps them make smart decisions when you can’t be there looking over their shoulders.
Communicate with Other Parents
You are not in this struggle against teen drinking alone: Other parents are just as concerned about the safety of their kids. Active communication helps form a united front against underage drinking and strengthens student safety because parents are keeping tabs on all kids within a group of friends and not just their own. If you are hosting a post-Homecoming party, call or email the parents of the invitees and explain exactly what the party will entail, emphasizing that no alcohol will be served. And if another family is hosting, don’t hesitate to find out the details of that party. Become friends with the parents of your teens’ friends; kids will be less likely to try deceiving you if they know you will call another parent to confirm details. Finally, if a family is planning on letting kids drink at their house, don’t be afraid to tell your children they can’t go. Remember, the safety of your teens is far more important than any bruised feelings. Ultimately, your role is to be a parent, not a friend.
Are high school parties with alcohol a big problem in your community?