This question is asked a lot by parents who worry that their child may be tempted to drink in social situations. Many wonder if they should let their teen experiment with alcohol under their watchful eye. In a recent conversation with a baseball coach, he shared that he would allow students to “party” at his home, adding, “if they are going to drink, I’d rather they do it in my home.” While I am sure he thought he was doing a good thing, there’s a lot more for parents—and coaches—to consider:
Legality: It’s illegal for people under 21 to drink alcohol and for adults to allow underage drinking in their homes.
Liability: If your child or another teen who consumed alcohol at your house is harmed or harms others, you could be liable since you provided the alcohol and condoned its use in your home.
Parental Role: You’re a parent, not your child’s friend, and the greatest influence in their life. By setting clear boundaries, you’re setting your child up for success.
Coach’s Role: If a coach is allowing alcohol use in their home, what message is that sending to young athletes? Do you really want your teen drinking with their high school team? No! Make it crystal clear to coaches and other parents that this is not acceptable.
Teen Brain: Because the human brain is still developing until about the age of 25, using alcohol at a young age has a greater impact on how the reward center of the brain develops. A teen brain produces more dopamine, the “feel good” messenger, from alcohol and can more easily learn to like—even crave— this feeling.
Risk Factors for Developing an Addiction
While there are many risk factors for developing an alcohol addiction—a genetic history, a difficult home life, divorced parents, financial and economic hardships, and academic struggles—the age a person begins using alcohol and other drugs puts them at the greatest risk.
Studies show that the younger a teen begins to drink alcohol, the more likely they will have a problem with it in the future. For example, those who drink before the age of 14 have a 40 percent greater chance of becoming addicted. Each year that a teen remains alcohol-free decreases their odds of having a problem with alcohol later in life.
Building Protective Factors
Research has identified several factors that can help set teens up for success: good peer relationships, participation in youth sports or other community groups, and supportive relationships with family—that’s you! These protective factors help young people respond to and navigate the ups and downs that come with being a teen.
Having clear boundaries and expectations is another important protective factor. Because teens are at a crucial developmental stage, they often do things without fully understanding the consequences. It’s perfectly normal for teens to push boundaries, which makes it even more important for adults—parents and coaches—to serve as their safety rails.
It’s also important to consider the messages we are sending to young people. Parents and other adults who provide alcohol are essentially telling teens it’s OK to drink. But research tells us that when teens feel they have their parents’ approval, they drink more and more often when they are not with their parents. When parents have concrete, enforced rules about alcohol, teens drink less.
Find Healthy Ways for Your Teen to Have Fun
Rather than expose teens to alcohol at a young age, parents and coaches can provide healthy ways to have fun and blow off steam. By providing a safe place for teens to hang out, you become part of their safety net and someone they can turn to if they need help. It’s a win-win.