While many parents prohibit their teens from drinking at their friends' houses, I often hear about parents who are comfortable with their children drinking in their own homes. Most of these parents argue that as long as their kids aren't driving, they don't need to be overly concerned if their teens are drinking. But is this any safer? Some parents who prohibit their teens from drinking outside of the home let their teens throw parties at home. By allowing their teenagers to drink at home, these parents may think they are creating a safe environment under watchful eyes, where teens can learn to drink alcohol responsibly. However, a large body of evidence suggests that this is not the case.
Not only is underage drinking illegal, but we also know it is potentially dangerous, regardless of where it takes place. We have good data to show that drunk driving is not the only danger associated with underage drinking. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, adolescent alcohol use is also associated with a wide range of risks, including changes in brain development and learning capabilities, school problems, social problems, unwanted and unprotected sexual activity, assault, unintentional injuries or even death.
If these risks seem theoretical or things that "just won't happen to me," there are serious implications that should make you think twice before letting your teenagers and their friends drink in your home.
1. It sends a mixed message. Having a different set of rules that govern drinking behavior inside and outside of the house is confusing for teens. Consistency is critical. The rules that apply outside of the house, by the same logic, should apply inside your home. Teens are quick to pick up on double messages, and will probably just assume that the more relaxed message applies - that it is okay to drink in general. Also - think about this - if you don't want your teens drinking at their friends' houses, their parents probably don't want their kids drinking at yours. Be consistent - underage drinking is unacceptable, regardless of location.
2. It's illegal to social host underage drinkers. The laws governing the provision of alcohol to one's own children vary from state to state. While some states allow parents to serve alcohol to their underage children at home, it is always illegal for you to serve your child's underage friends. If people under age 21 drink in your home and are caught, or suffer any troublesome outcome, you can be held civilly or criminally responsible.
3. Teen sex in your home? We know that adolescents are more likely to engage in sexual activity, and often riskier sex at that, while under the influence of alcohol. Think hard about whether you want to create an environment that potentially allows for risky sexual behavior.
4. It's confusing for younger siblings. Younger children may have an especially difficult time understanding blurry rules about drinking. By letting older kids drink at home, parents put younger siblings at risk of being confused, and potentially increase the possibility that these younger kids may also experiment with alcohol.
As if these reasons aren't enough to convince you, think about how drunken behavior can lead to damages in your home. By not condoning underage alcohol use both inside and outside your home, you are sending a clear message to your children and their friends. Not only are you ensuring safety within your own home, but you are also preparing them to make good decisions at other homes and later on as they head off to college and beyond.
For information and resources on how to talk to your teen about alcohol, visit www.healthallianceonalcohol.com and follow us on twitter @DiscussAlcohol.
Dr. Mindy Brittner, Family Medicine Doctor and Fellow in Adolescent Medicine at New York-Presbyterian Hospital/Columbia Medical Center, contributed to this piece.