Parents on the hook for teen drinking -

Teen drinking is a parent trap

Some parents let their teenagers drink alcohol at home under their own watchful eyes.  Why? To deter them from doing it somewhere else where they might get hurt or worse.

But parents, beware!

It might sound like a model approach to solving an age-old problem, but Dr. Cara Natterson says the argument is fatally flawed. Here's what parents needs to know about their child's health and their own legal liability.

"We know that kids start drinking at a younger age than most parents want to acknowledge. Fifty percent of all kids start drinking at fourteen," notes the Harvard-trained pediatrician.
Dr.  Natterson says that the leading cause of death for teenagers is car crashes. One out of three teen car crashes involves alcohol.

"Because the teenage brain is not fully mature, the kids don't have consequential thinking. They can't think about consequences the same way adults can," she explains. "When you mix that with alcohol, and alcohol disinhibits you, it makes you more likely to do things you wouldn't otherwise do. The result is that teenagers who are drunk are really going out and doing things that can harm themselves or can harm other people." 

Another reason she says you want to keep alcohol away from your kids is that kids who start drinking before age 15 have a significantly higher chance of becoming dependent on alcohol than kids who start drinking after fifteen.

Educator Thom Gasper has been around high schoolers for nearly 20 years. He's seen what can happen when well-meaning parents host teen parties with alcohol.

"There are a lot of issues that arise. Whether it's some kind of over-binge drinking and students having to go to the hospital -- I know of situations where uninvited guests have come to those parties and created some violent situations," says Gasper.

"Any parent that thinks putting alcohol under their own roof is a good idea is wrong," says Dr. Natterson. "And they're wrong because it's illegal. And so, if something happens, whether it's under your roof or outside of your home, but as a consequence of the alcohol – you are responsible."

Dr. Natterson's most important advice is to be a parent to your child -- not their best buddy.

"One of the greatest reasons not to be your kid's pal and to give them rules instead is that they can use you as their scapegoat," she explains. "If you have a rule and your child can say to people, 'Ugh, my mom's going to kill me because not only am I not allowed to do this, but she has said that this and this and this are happening and so I actually can't do it," then you're giving your child an out. If you say to your child, 'We can have the party here and it's under our roof and I'm watching and everything's going to be fine,' you haven't given your kid the out. You've thrown your kid right into the middle of the situation."

She adds that she's not discouraging parents from hosting parties for their teens -- just don't serve alcohol.

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