Parenting teens is a paradox. We don’t want them to get into trouble, but we also don’t want them to get us into trouble.
One of the riskiest behaviors for both teens and parents is underage drinking—because parents can be held legally responsible when kids drink in their home.
Many of us are familiar with the case of the Deerfield parents who were convicted of allowing an underage drinking party to go on in their basement as they watched TV upstairs.
Two 18-year-old boys left their home drunk and died when they crashed their car into a nearby tree. The parents claimed they had no idea the kids were drinking.
According to Illinois and many local municipalities’ law, not knowing about underage drinking doesn’t mean parents aren’t responsible for it. Here are several things defense attorney Barry Spector says parents should do to protect themselves—and their teens.
Lock Up the Alcohol in your House. Parents can’t stay home and guard the liquor cabinet 24/7, but failing to control access can result in charges or lawsuits if teens are able to help themselves. To be safe, lock it up or get it out of the house.
Supervise All Parties. If your teen is hosting a gathering, take steps to discourage drinking. Have guests enter and exit from a single point that’s visible to you, and don’t allow them to come and go during the party. Make it clear you’ll be checking the party room and do so regularly.
“Kids know the parents who check and the ones who don’t,” Spector says.
Don’t Leave ‘em Home Alone. Parents with older teens often wrestle with whom to leave in charge when they go out of town. The kids are too old for a babysitter, right? Not necessarily. The lure of an empty house with parents away for the night is a huge temptation, and even if you think you can trust your kids, you might not be able to trust their friends.
To protect yourself legally, have an adult your teens respects come and stay, or have your kids spend the night with trusted friends. Spector also suggests asking neighbors to keep an eye on your house and ask them to call you if they see a lot of cars or activity.
Create a Climate of Calling. Cell phones make it easy to stay in touch but difficult to determine where your teen really is. By checking in with other parents or asking your kid to verify his or her location by calling from a landline, you reduce the opportunity for kids to gather in a home when parents are away.
Of course your teen will push back on all of these actions and moan that “you don’t trust me” or “you’re too strict.” When this happens, Spector recommends telling them “I’m not doing this to punish you; I’m doing this to protect me.” Kids seem to accept this reasoning better.
Editor’s note: Don’t miss Part One of Marjie’s series: Important Things Teens Need to Know About the Law.