Underage Drinking

Dear Mr. Dad: We’ve suspected for some time that our 15-year-old daughter has been drinking with her friends. Last night she came home, after curfew, with alcohol on her breath. When we confronted her, she said it’s “no big deal” and “everyone” in her group of friends is doing it. What should we do?

A: Your daughter is right about one thing: a lot of her friends probably are drinking. But she’s very, very wrong about it not being a “big deal.” According to the American Medical Association, the average age of a child’s first drink is 12. And nearly 20 percent of 12-20 year-olds are considered binge drinkers.

Unfortunately, drinking is a teenage rite of passage. If your daughter’s friends drink, she’ll have a tough time resisting the pressure to conform and the desire to fit in. But that doesn’t mean you should stand idly by while she behaves irresponsibly—and dangerously.

What to do? First, forbidding her to drink won’t get you anywhere. Teenagers are notoriously defiant of parental authority, so she’ll pay more attention to what her friends say and do than to you. She may also become more secretive about her drinking.

So try cold logic instead. Your daughter and her friends probably have no idea that:

  • It’s illegal for her to be drinking in the first place–or for anyone who’s legally able to drink to buy liquor for a minor.
  • Even one drink can slow her reactions, confuse her thinking, and keep her from making good decisions.
  • At least 5,000 young people die every year in alcohol-related car accidents, homicides, and suicides, and thousands more are injured.
  • There’s mounting evidence that drinking during adolescence can lead to learning and memory impairments, difficulties with balance and coordination, social problems, depression, and other neurological, medical, and mental problems.
  • Teens who begin drinking before age 15 are five times more likely to become alcoholics than those who start at 21.

Getting a non-confrontational, fact-based dialogue going with your daughter about the very real risks of alcohol consumption is crucial. Share all the facts with her and make sure she understands them. Ask her why she feels it’s okay to endanger her health and safety for the sake of a few drinks. Many young people don’t think beyond the instant gratification and may not realize that dangerous behaviors like drinking could have lasting consequences. Hopefully this will be the wakeup call she badly needs.

It’s also a good idea for you and your spouse to take this matter up with the parents of your daughter’s friends. If you can get everyone on board and come up with a united front, your chances of success will be far greater than if you try to handle this on your own.

Don’t underestimate the importance of setting a good example for your daughter. In other words, if you and your spouse drink regularly, your anti-alcohol arguments will likely fall on deaf ears. Set standards in your home that you want your daughter to follow, and reinforce your message of abstinence by your own behavior.

Think about how you can work with your daughter on building her self-esteem and sense of self-worth. The goal is to get her better equipped to withstand the temptations around her and to choose friends and activities that are positive and healthy.

Of course, even if your daughter goes on the wagon entirely, she may still find herself someplace where her friends might be imbibing. So remind her that she should never ride in a car with someone who’s been drinking. Let her know that she can call you at anytime and you’ll pick her up wherever she is. No questions asked, no judgments made.