Alcohol & Your Child: Social Hosting Concerns Every Parent Should Know

pool party

School’s out, pool parties are plentiful — for many teenagers, summer is the season of fun. You might find yourself hosting your fair share of get-togethers for your kids this summer, but you might not know about the risks involved. While having the kids in your home gives you a little more control and lets you keep an eye on the festivities, it also comes with social hosting concerns that may put you at risk for liability when it comes to alcohol.

A surprising number of parents seem to have a relaxed attitude about providing alcohol to their high-school-aged children. In a survey by Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD), 33% of teens said their parents willingly gave them alcohol, while 40% reported they could easily get alcohol from a friend’s parent. Additionally, 25% had attended a party where underage drinking happened in front of supervising parents.

Dangers of Drinking

We’ve all heard the warnings from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) about the dangers of teenage drinking – from the 189,000 emergency rooms visits and 4,300 deaths each year to the $24 billion dollars it costs the economy. CDC research also shows that teenage drinkers are more likely to develop issues with substance use later in life: A child who starts drinking before age 15 is more than five times as likely to develop an alcohol use disorder as someone who starts drinking at age 21.

With so many risks why do some parents still enable underage drinking? Some assume kids are going to drink, so they attempt to create a safe environment for it. Others think high school drinking is a rite of passage, or good preparation for college drinking culture. Still, none of these rationalizations hold water. Underage drinking is not just harmful to your child, it’s also illegal, and if it occurs in your home, you could face legal or even criminal consequences.

Hosting Responsibilities

If you’re planning a party, it’s important to understand your responsibilities, both to your guests and to your community. Many states have passed Social Host laws that hold adults liable for drinking that happens in their homes. Under these laws, it doesn’t matter who brings the alcohol, the age of the guests, if the parents know that the guests are drinking, or even if the parents are home. If your child has a party in your house while you’re out of town and their friends bring beer or liquor, you may be held legally responsible for any consequences—like vandalism or drunk driving—and any resulting injuries, even if the guests are old enough to legally drink.

While you might understand that banning underage drinking at your child’s next get-together is the best plan, it can be hard to put that plan into action. The urge to be the cool parent or the fun place to hang out can be hard to resist, but in this circumstance, the experts say: “Be a parent, not a pal.” So how exactly do you plan a dry party? Here are a few strategies for keeping your teen’s next party substance free:

  • Create a guest list with your child, and make it clear that only invited guests will be allowed to attend.
  • Emphasize to everyone invited that no drugs (including marijuana) or alcohol will be available or allowed at the party.
  • Let your guests and their parents know that you’ll be home during the party and will be popping in periodically.
  • Provide snacks and nonalcoholic beverages, and ban outside food and drinks. Or, you can invite guests to bring sealed snacks, like unopened bags of chips or candy—just provide all the beverages yourself.
  • Put jackets and bags into a secured area as kids arrive, and make it clear they’ll be inaccessible until the end of the night.
  • Give your guests something else to do. Make sure you have activities planned by setting up a game room, a dance floor, or a movie screening area.

Social hosting brings with it big responsibilities, but there are ways to reduce your risk—and still make sure your party is a success. Remember, even if your child is of legal drinking age, you’re still responsible for the safety of your guests. Plan ahead, make the rules and expectations clear, and create an enforcement strategy that works for you. Your child, your guests, and your community will thank you for it.

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