Skip to main content

Teens and Drinking

Many kids begin drinking alcohol before they have reached the legal age. Evaluate the use of alcohol in your home, and teach your teenager to drink responsibly.

Teens and Drinking

In a national survey conducted recently by the University of Michigan's Institute for Social Research and the National Institute on Drug Abuse, 50,000 student in grades 8, 10, and 12 were interviewed on their drinking habits. Here's what they said:

  • Fifty-five percent of the eighth graders surveyed said they had already had an alcoholic drink at some point in their lives.
  • Of this group, nearly half had had a drink in the 30 days before the survey.
  • One out of every seven eighth graders surveyed had had five or more drinks in a row in the prior two weeks.

So despite the fact that the legal drinking age in every state is 21, kids are obviously having their first taste of alcohol long before it's legal.

Danger Zone

Here's what you should know about the legal aspects of serving liquor to minors:

  • You can serve your own minor children in your home.
  • You are responsible for any illegal behavior of your minor child, whether she has been under the influence of alcohol or not.
  • Any person who delivers, sells, or gives liquor to a minor is liable to be punished under the law.
  • If you serve minor children (other than your own) in your home, you can be held liable for any resulting problems.

Drinking at Home

The way you treat alcohol in your home will make a big difference in how your teen handles the issue. Consider some steps you can take:

  • Evaluate how your family uses alcohol. Daily, to relax? Only for special celebrations or for religious ones? Only when there's company? Are you comfortable with the message this conveys to your children?
  • Don't involve your teenager in your drinking by asking her to bring you a beer or mix you a drink.
  • Should you introduce alcohol to your teen at home so he can learn of its effects? Some parents do; others feel that serving alcohol at home reduces yet one more barrier to keeping him alcohol-free. (Also, most alcoholic drinks are an acquired taste; it may be advantageous if a teen isn't taught to like them.)
  • Lock up your liquor. While motivated teens seem to have little trouble buying liquor, a good amount of what they drink comes from someone's home stock. If you lock it up, you don't have to worry about your teen (or her friends) getting hold of it.

Drunk Driving Equals No Driving

  • “It's just one beer…”
  • “I didn't drink the hard stuff…”
  • “I can handle it…”

One beer in the system of an average-size teen is enough to push her alcohol level up to .02 blood alcohol level. That's high enough to result in a suspended driver's license in an increasing number of states.

Driving while intoxicated is particularly bad for teens because they're less experienced at both drinking and driving. They believe they can't have an accident—but they can.

And while many teens are cooperative about appointing a designated driver, this begs the point of whether you want teens drinking at all: if one agrees not to drink so she can drive, the rest now feel that they have permission to drink.

Sobriety Versus Safety

While talking about abstinence is all well and good, your teen may trip up at some point. Share your values, but stress what is really important to you: you don't want her to drink alcohol, but if she does, you want her to get home safely. She shouldn't drive herself if she's been drinking, nor should she ride with another driver who has been drinking. You'll come and get her.

By saying this, you're letting her know that transgressions can be forgiven, and that her life is what is most important to you.

Students Against Drunk Driving (SADD) offers an anti-drunk-driving contract that both teens and their parents can sign. By signing, the teen acknowledges the legal drinking age of 21 and promises to do his best to adhere to a substance-free existence. He also promises to never take a risk by coming home with someone whose abilities are impaired.

The parent is asked to promise to arrange safe transport for the teen, regardless of the circumstances. The parent also vows to seek safe transportation home if he or she is in a situation where no one is in a condition to drive.

See the Resource Directory at the end of this book for information on how to contact SADD for a sample copy of the contract.

Join the Family

Your partner in parenting from baby name inspiration to college planning.