At what age should I start talking with my kids about the risks and dangers of underage drinking?

Talk should begin earlier than you think. Kids absorb messages from parents, neighbors, and TV very early. When kids are younger, it’s advised to use teachable moments to make a point about alcohol in age appropriate ways. By the time they reach middle school, open discussions about alcohol and it’s risks should be occurring. Kids who hear these messages before they are faced with a decision are better equipped to say no.  For help with these conversations, visit our Talking Tips page for an age-appropriate guide for talking with your children about drugs and alcohol.

Is it okay for my kids to drink alcohol in my home with my permission?

No, except under very specific religious ceremonies.

What are the legal ramifications of underage drinking?

The legal ramifications are significant. Click here. “Know the Law

I drank when I was a teen, so why shouldn't I let my teen drink?

Times are different and we know more about adolescent brain development today. Underage drinking permanently affects the way the adolescent brain develops, significantly increases the likelihood of becoming alcohol dependent later in life, and leads to other illegal drugs.

What are the legal liabilities if an underage drinking party occurs at my house?

It is not illegal for parents to serve their children alcohol in the privacy of their own home in Illinois. It is against the law to serve anyone else’s child, even if their parents are present and give permission. Hosting an underage drinking party at your home opens your family up to significant criminal and civil liabilities.

Why isn't it okay to let teens drink, as long as I take their car keys away?

Many parents decide that they will provide a safe environment for teens to drink by taking the car keys. This is an unreasonable decision. Anyone who has had many teens in their home can attest to the difficulty of actually controlling who is doing what, so you can never be sure you have all the car keys. Beyond that, taking the car keys only prevents drunk driving, but drunk driving is only a factor in less than half the teen deaths associated with alcohol. There are all sorts of consequences these underage drinking teens are susceptible to, including sexual assault, aggravated assault, alcohol poisoning, and drowning. Hosting an underage drinking party opens you and your family up to profound criminal and civil liabilities.

My teen says that no one drinks and drives. Is that true?

Unfortunately, no. In the recent Illinois Youth Survey of Barrington High School students, many teens admitted that they had driven under the influence or ridden with someone else who was impaired.

What are the consequences of underage drinking for my teens?

Besides the substantial negative effects on their bodies and developing brains, consequences include: arrest and conviction of an ordinance or state law, fines, potential license restrictions, athletic and extra-curricular restrictions, and elimination from consideration for honor societies and scholarships or school admissions. Driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs results in the loss of their driver’s license.

If kids have been restricted from using alcohol while in high school, does it put them at risk for going overboard on alcohol later?

The opposite is true. In a recent university study, it was revealed that the students who had serious problems with alcohol in college were the ones who had been drinking in high school and had adopted that behavior as part of their definition of having fun. Those that did not drink early were significantly less likely to develop alcohol problems in college and later in life as well.

If teens have one drink in an evening, are they still at risk for being charged with a DUI?

Yes. Youth under age 21 may not have any alcohol in their system while driving or they could be subject to a DUI. The speed at which alcohol is eliminated from their system depends on many variables so there is no sure way (other than a breathalyzer) to determine BAL (Blood Alcohol Level). Impairment to driving skills happens quickly, even with low levels of alcohol.

Will talking to my teens and letting them know we would be disappointed if they drank alcohol, make any difference?

Yes. Talking with teens about boundaries and expectations does make a difference. In recent surveys among Barrington High School students, those who said their parents have firm rules about alcohol use were half as likely to use. Teens report that the number one reason they don’t drink alcohol is “disappointing their parents”.

How can I address alcohol problems if my teen is living away from home?

Parents play an important role, even if their children are living away. Listen closely for signs of distress or problems from alcohol, set reasonable expectations for academic performance if they are in college, and let kids know the risks related to drinking. Encourage them to stand up for the right not to drink or binge.

Is it true that Europe has less of a teen drinking problem than the United States?

No. European countries have youth binge drinking levels higher than in the US. Early exposure to alcohol does not appear to prevent risky drinking among today’s youth.

How can I tell if my teen has been drinking?

First, be alert to alcohol smell on their breath. Ask for the “I’m home and safe kiss.” Be suspicious if your teen is chomping on mints or gum each time he/she comes home. Check for disorientation, vomiting, and telltale signs of hangovers. Monitor your home alcohol supply and check backpacks or stashes in bedrooms or basements if you suspect a problem.

How should I answer when my child asks, "How can I say no to alcohol? I'm afraid I won't fit in."
Tell them that it’s easier to refuse than you think. Teach them strategies for saying "no". Try “No thanks”, “I don’t drink”, or “I’m not interested.” Remind them that the majority of teens don’t drink alcohol. They’re in good company when they are one of them. For more tips, visit our Ways to Say No page.

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