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Ask the Expert: My Teen and His Friend Drink. Is Taking Car Keys Enough?

Dear Your Teen:

My son and his friend are underage, but I know they drink. I have been wondering whether they would be safer if I let them drink at my house but I made everyone hand me their keys. Wouldn’t it be safer to allow them to drink in my home where I can control the situation rather than have them drink elsewhere and possibly drive after?

EXPERT | Russ Goodwin, PhD

If teenagers want to drink alcohol, they will find a way. Our job as parents is teen drinking prevention for as long as possible. Additionally, under no circumstances should we make it easier for them.

Allowing teenagers to drink alcohol in your home (aside from the legal issues) is no guarantee that they will be safer.

When teens drink in a home where they know the parents don’t care or don’t monitor, the teens behave with the same sense of freedom as if the parents were not home. Simply being present in the same house does not prevent drinking. Parents must monitor. In fact, I know situations when teens have needed to go the hospital, even when the parents were at home.

The idea that “Well at least they won’t be driving” (when parents take the keys) is a fallacy. I also know of situations where kids sneak out of the house and still drive.

In addition, parents may not know what happened before the kids came to their house. There might be a situation where a kid already took prescription pills. The combination of drugs and alcohol has a magnified impact, called potentiation. Providing alcohol under these facts could be extremely dangerous.

Yes, kids will experiment. However, when parents set parameters, when we don’t enable, teens will be more inclined to limit how much they drink.

They are less likely to overdo it because they know their parents will be monitoring them, they will be checking, there will be a “sniff down” when they get home. Even though many teenagers will experiment, knowing that their parents disapprove will typically help temper their risky behavior. (It should be noted, however, that Bio-psychosocial Risk factors greatly influence a teen’s drinking patterns.)

For more on this subject, try this article:

I encourage parents to form a network with other like-minded parents who are dedicated to preventing underage drinking. We need a more united front in our homes, neighborhoods and schools. And parents need to know they aren’t the only ones who don’t allow drinking.

Russ Goodwin

Russ Goodwin is a licensed Professional Counselor and Independent Chemical Dependency Counselor at Impact Solutions

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