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Your Teen Hosted A Party With Alcohol While You Were Gone. Now What?

J.B. and her husband were on a lovely, worry-free vacation. And then they received the unwelcome news that their teenager had hosted a party. With alcohol. And no parents.

“Our neighbors called the police to complain about the noise,” J.B. said. “The police arrived at 1 a.m. and called all of the parents to pick up their children. They also called my parents (our daughter’s grandparents).”

J.B. and her husband had time to consider how they would handle the situation. They agreed on three consequences:

1. Their daughter was grounded.

2. There were lengthy discussions about her behavior.

3. And their daughter would write letters of apology to the parents whose teens attended the party. And she would write two more—to her parents and grandparents.

“We also put our daughter on notice that if anything like this happened again, we had the name of an alcohol counselor for her to see. And there would be no excuses,” she said.

Did J.B. respond appropriately? What should parents do when they find out their teenager hosted a party with alcohol (and underage drinking), while they were out of town?

As with most things in raising teenagers, it depends. Have they done this before, or is this the first time? Did your teen initiate the party and drinking? Was it one of their friends who pressured them into hosting?

3 Tips For Parents Whose Kids Host Drinking Parties:

1. Get the facts straight.

“There are some mitigating circumstances, but the first thing is you can’t solely believe whatever you heard,” says Dr. Deborah Gilboa, a family physician and author of Get the Behavior You Want … Without Being the Parent You Hate. “As a parent you have to gather some information from more sources so that you have a fuller picture of what happened.”

2. Take your time in responding.

Don’t feel like you need to respond to your teen immediately. Feel free to tell them that there will be consequences, and you will let them know when you decide. That can be in an hour, a day, or even a week. “It’s really valuable to take your time to give your child a consequence,” says Gilboa. “Reacting in the heat of the moment usually does not go as well in terms of teaching a lesson or building a relationship with your child — which is actually what you want to do.”

Especially in the case where your teen felt cornered by her friends to host a party. If that’s what happened you’ll want to show empathy and brainstorm a plan of attack in case something like that happens again.

3. Make them accountable for their actions.

In terms of the actual consequences, J.B. had the right idea when it comes to apologies. Make a list of who your teen impacted — the parents of the other teens, and maybe a younger sibling who was at home at the time, or grandparents who were lied to. If they broke a team rule (i.e. no drinking), they should also tell their coach, even if gets them benched. “That accountability piece is more important than any grounding they’re going to face,” Gilboa says.

Then you might have them research the legal consequences of minors drinking alcohol in someone’s home.

“Have them find out and make a presentation to you about what could happen,” says Gilboa. “People can lose their homeowners insurance for this. If parents are in certain professions, like teachers and doctors, they can be in trouble professionally even if they weren’t there. All of this is about helping them understand the seriousness of what seemed to them like a reasonable thing to do.”

In terms of any other consequences, that’s up to the parent to decide based on the individual teen. Maybe you’ll want to ground them or take away their phone. Whatever sends the message that when you behave badly there are repercussions.

Finally, you should probably call the parents of the teens yourself. You should also apologize and clarify that you were unaware that a party was happening. And if they ever hear that their teen is attending a party at your house, invite them to reach out and make sure there will be adult supervision.

Rebecca Borison

Rebecca Borison is a writer in New York City.