Beware of Holiday Partying

Christmas, Hanukah, New Year’s Eve, and more – the holidays are upon us, and with them come parties. Although holiday parties can be a lot of fun, they can also pose some serious risk to our teenagers. Rare is the teen party that does not try to include alcohol. And as we all know, alcohol can bring a whole host of problems related to poor decision making. Many students who normally choose not to drink or engage in sexual behavior are tempted and under enormous pressure to be “part of” the party. Once alcohol enters the party, there is an increased likelihood of fights and other violence, teen sex and experimentation, and drunk driving. Underage drinking is a major factor in the two leading causes of teenage deaths: car crashes and fatal injuries. Studies show that the majority of drunk drivers are under age 25. Underage drinking is also linked to two-thirds of sexual assaults and date rapes of teens, and increases the likelihood of unsafe and unplanned sexual activity.

Interestingly, there are some major discrepancies in what our teens are experiencing at parties and what parents believe is happening. Here are some statistics from the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University:

  • 80% of parents believe that neither alcohol nor marijuana is usually available at parties their teens attend. BUT 50% of teen partygoers attend parties where alcohol, drugs or both are available.
  • 98% of parents say they are normally present during parties they allow their teens to have at home. BUT a third of teen partygoers report that parents are rarely or never present at the parties they attend.
  • 99% of parents say they would not be willing to serve alcohol at their teen’s party. BUT 28% of teen partygoers have been at parties at a home where parents were present and teens were drinking alcohol.
  • One in three high school students (50% of 17-year-olds) surveyed report that they have attended parties where drugs and alcohol were provided and either the parents were there and didn’t notice or the parents provided the drugs and alcohol for the party.

Alcohol is, by far, the most socially acceptable and easiest drug to obtain in our country. For that reason, it’s a popular choice among teens. The median age at which teens begin to drink is thirteen. Eighty-seven percent of high school seniors have used alcohol. Although it is illegal for teens to purchase alcohol, they can often get it through their parent’s own liquor cabinets, unscrupulous store clerks, older friends who purchase it for them, and sometimes their parents even provide it for them. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) recently reported that most underage youth get alcohol from home, and about a third were given it by their parents or guardians.

Are you one of those parents that believes that, since teens are likely to drink anyway, it’s better to allow them to drink at home when they are supervised than to try to stop them? There are two major problems with this idea: (1) research does not support this belief, and (2) you (the parent) can get in some serious trouble.

First, let’s look at the research:

  • There have been some advocates of supervised teen drinking saying that European teens don’t have problems with binge drinking because they “learn” to drink at home with their parents. However, a recent study of Dutch teens who were allowed to drink alcohol at home also drank more outside the home than their peers and were at increased risk of developing alcohol problems, according to researchers from Radboud University Nijmegen. According to the European School Survey Project on Alcohol and Drugs, the proportion of 15 to 16-year-olds who binge drink is higher in France, Italy, Denmark, Ireland and other northern European countries than in the United States.
  • Although some parents believe drinking problems in adolescence are “just a phase” that a person may outgrow, a new study begs to differ. Research published in the February 2011 issue of “Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research” suggests that problem drinking in someone at age 18 helps predict alcoholism at age 25.
  • Another study reported that the more parents expect their teens to engage in risky behaviors such as drinking and using drugs, the more likely their teens are to follow through with those behaviors. Researchers found that adolescents with mothers who expected them to be more rebellious and take greater risks reported higher levels of risky behavior than other adolescents during follow-up surveys. On the other hand, parents may lower the rate of risky behavior among their adolescent children by expecting that they can resist negative peer pressure and instead engage in positive behavior, according to the study.
  • A new study this year shows that teens who drink with an adult supervising are more likely to develop problems with alcohol than kids who aren’t allowed to drink until they hit age 21.

The last two studies in particular refute the common thought that parents are just “being realistic” when they expect illegal drinking. Note that the teens who fared the best were those who had a rule in place prohibiting alcohol. That does not mean that the child never drank until they were 21. So, regardless of whether the child drinks or not, their parents’ message of expecting no drinking is what made the difference in whether they became an alcoholic or not.

Now, let’s look at some of the consequences for the parents of supervising teen drinking. Throughout the country, providing alcohol to minors is against the law. The penalties vary throughout the country, and even from county to county, but do include fines and jail time as well as civil responsibility. If a high school student comes to a party at your house and is served alcohol (whether you’re aware of it or not), then you are civilly liable and can be sued for actions that result from that (perhaps he leaves your home and gets into an accident and destroys property or hurts somebody). You are also teaching your child that some laws are to be followed and others are to be broken, which is a slippery slope.  If you’re still not sure, consider this story aired on the Today show on December 8, 2011. A college professor and his wife allowed their teen son to have a bunch of friends over to celebrate a football game win. Their rule was no alcohol. The kids were in the basement, and the parents were upstairs. The parents would go downstairs frequently to check on the kids and to bring them various snacks. A neighbor contacted the police complaining about a party and saying they thought that the teens had alcohol. The police showed up, and the father said that he did not see any alcohol, but unfortunately he was wrong. He was arrested and charged with 44 counts of contributing to the delinquency of a minor and could face up to a year in prison.

Final Thoughts…

Be very thoughtful when it comes to holiday parties. Tell your teen that it is against the family rules for them to drink alcohol. Never buy alcohol for your teen or host a party for your teen that includes alcohol and do not allow them to attend parties where you know there will be alcohol. Your most effective method of preventing alcohol use is talking to your child. If you haven’t talked to your teen about alcohol use because you just don’t know what to say, then visit the Online Guide for Talking to Kids About Alcohol at: Another good resource for parents is to download and read a copy of the Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) brochure “Power of Parents, It’s Your Influence“.

Many parents worry that their discussions are going in one ear and out the other, but surveys show that one of the top reasons teens say they choose to make responsible choices on a wide range of risky behaviors is because they don’t want to disappoint their parents.

And be sure to role model responsible drinking yourself. A new government study by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) shows that teens are more likely to drive under the influence of alcohol or drugs if their parents have driven under the influence. So, although you only had one beer and waited two hours before you drove, your teen sees that you drink and drive. Be conscious of how your child is observing you.

Middle Earth wishes you and your teen(s) safe, healthy and happy holidays!

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