Dear Your Teen:
We caught my 17-year-old daughter stealing alcohol from our home to drink with her friends. This is the second time she’s done this. How should I respond?
EXPERT | Dr. Carol Langlois
1. Lock it up.
Remember, teenagers find it easy to access alcohol when it’s readily available in their homes. Research has shown that two out of three teenagers say it is easy to get alcohol from their homes without their parents knowing about it. As a precautionary step, I’d suggest keeping your liquor cabinet locked.
Also, brain science can be helpful here. Your 17-year-old daughter’s frontal lobe—which is the region that handles restraint—hasn’t fully formed. We know the human brain does not finish developing until sometime in our 20s. If your daughter can’t yet make the right choice about alcohol, then locking the cabinet helps her by ensuring the alcohol is out of her easy reach.
2. Explain your concerns.
I’d also recommend an extended, calm conversation about the severity of her actions. What if she or another teenager ended up in the hospital? Or in a car accident? Help her see the potential consequences to her actions.
3. Follow through with consequences.
Was there a punishment associated the first time she stole the alcohol? If not, that’s probably why she did it again. There needs to be punishment for a 17 year old drinking. Make sure you follow through with a consequence this time and help her understand what the future consequences will be for underage drinking.
4. Consider where else she can get alcohol.
Stealing alcohol from parents isn’t the only way teens can acquire it. As a parent, how do you feel about underage drinking at home with parental supervision? You may be surprised to know that a study found that one out of four parents thinks supervised underage drinking in their home is okay. And one in four teens has attended a party where minors were drinking in front of other adults.
Clearly, some parents believe it’s fine to supply alcohol to minors. If your teenager is not allowed alcohol at home but then goes to a friend’s house where the rules change, this sends a confusing message. Try to find out what’s going on at her friends’ homes. Call if you must. You can also consider forming an alliance with other parents who have similar views on drinking. That way you can all send the same message to your teenagers.
Bottom line: be clear on where you stand in terms of teens stealing alcohol from parents and underage drinking. That’s not to say your teenager won’t drink, but teenagers are less likely to do so when they understand their parents don’t approve.
Here’s a follow-up article from Your Teen about realistic ways to talk about underage drinking with an older teenager.