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Parenting Tips: Helping Prevent Teen Alcohol and Drug Use

While you may not want to be a hovering helicopter parent, now is the time to "lean in" as a parent, especially during the freshman and sophomore years. Below are tips to help you do that. Pick and choose among them, according to your teen's age, temperament, maturity, and proven trustworthiness.

  • Parents are their Teens Most Important Influence. The BTI program is premised on the simple fact that parents have a lot more influence with their teens than they think they do. Parents are still their teens' number one influence. It is further based on research that shows that increased “supervision”, an “engaged” parenting style and “modeling” healthy behavior by parents with respect to their own alcohol and drug use can all positively impact teen behavior and help delay early experimentation and use.

  • Know the New Adolescent Brain Science and "Delay, Delay, Delay". We now know so much about the effects of alcohol and other drugs on the developing teen brain. And the research is very clear that the longer teens “delay” using alcohol and other drugs, the less likely they will have addiction and substance abuse issues later in life. Teens who experiment with alcohol and other drugs at age 15 or younger are five times more likely to have addiction or substance abuse issues as adults. With each year your teen delays regular use, the better off and more successful they will be — not only in high school but in life. The longer your teen delays use, the more his or her brain will develop normally and your teen will learn to deal with the stresses and ups and downs of life without self-medicating.

  • Teens who are Allowed to Party in their Homes have Higher Risks. Some parents cling to the false notion that their children will be “safer”and off the road if they allow them to “experiment” in their homes or “look the other way” when they use, hoping they “will get it over with” be "better prepared" for college so they will not “go crazy” then. The research shows otherwise. Studies show that teens who are allowed to party at home have higher rates of alcohol and other drug use outside their homes as well as drunk or drugged driving. Studies further show that in our culture, the theory that parents can teach their teens to party responsibly by allowing it at home is misguided. Additionally, it is irresponsible of parents to allow other kids to party in their homes, especially if the parents of those teens are unaware of the hosting parents' permissiveness. Finally, the reality is that many of our teens likely will go a little crazy in college anyway! Another reality is that, growing up in Marin County, by the time our teens graduate from high school, the majority of them will have experimented with alcohol or other drugs and either they or their friends will have unfortunate experiences to learn from, thus "preparing" them for college.

  • Be Wary of Parties with Older Teens and Sleepovers. Parents of younger teens (especially freshman) should say "not yet" or otherwise discourage their teens from attending large parties with teens from more senior grades. The world of a 14-15 year old is very different from that of a 17-18 year old. Additionally, the fact is that parents are often absent from these parties, or the parties are loosely supervised or worse, drinking and other drug use is tolerated. Similarly, parents should be wary about last minute sleepover requests and should use the BTI Parent Participant Listing to reach out to the hosting parents.

  • Know Where Your Teen is Going and With Whom, Especially if Driving. Consider using a "Find My Friends" or other app on your phones or landlines to verify your teen's whereabouts. This also applies to what your teen is doing after school, especially on Friday afternoons and on weekends. Also know who your teen is driving with. Get to know your teens' friends and their parents by reaching out to them and using the on-line BTI Parent Participant List. Do not enable your new teen driver with a "provisional" restricted drivers license to drive other teens. This greatly increases the risks of an accident and can result in substantial liability. Say no to your teen getting a ride with a new driver, even if it makes life more convenient for you as a parent.

  • Set a Reasonable Curfew and Check-Ins. There is no reason for teens to be allowed out at all hours of the night when nothing good happens. Local curfew laws are at 11 pm and the CHP strictly enforces this curfew and issues citations when teens have their "provisional" drivers license. For freshman and sophomore parents, think about what time is okay for a senior to come home at night. Then count backwards. Realize that every year, you will want to move your teen's curfew a little later to reward good behavior and acknowledge growing maturity and freedom. If you start 9th grade at midnight, you will soon find yourself in trouble. Regarding check-ins having some face to face contact; a phone conversation is even better than texting. Trust but verify such as through a landline or Find My Friends app.

  • Be Aware of Local Social Host Ordinance Laws and Use Law Enforcement as Support. Social Host Ordinances throughout Marin hold parents strictly and financially accountable for underage drinking in their homes. Some local police departments publish press releases about social host violations with your street named. Additionally, if your teen is 18 or over, your family may be identified by name. If you are leaving your house unattended for the evening or leaving town overnight, take precautions to ensure your house won’t become "The Party Spot". Never hesitate to contact police for help if a party gets out of control. Local police can also be contacted for drive-by "vacation checks".

  • "Teen Proof" Your Home. Reduce easy access to alcohol, marijuana and prescription drugs by "teen proofing" your home and locking up, otherwise securing or keeping track of any alcohol and other drugs. Don't make it easy for your teen to experiment with or use alcohol or other drugs - even if you think it is an inevitable "rite of passage".

  • Hidden Stashes and Fake Id's. Periodically check for hidden alcohol, marijuana and other drugs or paraphernalia as well as “fake id’s”, all of which can be found in bedrooms, cars and wallets. Fake Id's are easy to obtain online and usually come in pairs. If you find one and destroy it, chances are a second one is around.

  • Know the Difference Between Experimentation and Use/Abuse. Experimentation is trying alcohol or another drug once or maybe twice. More than that is "using", which can escalate into "abusing". The "worst" drug out there is the one that your teen experiments with and likes.

  • Have Regular Discussions about these Topics with Your Teen. If you have not been talking about the hard stuff (drugs, birth control, sex, consent), this is the time to start. If you have been talking about these issues, double down. Talk early and often. Every family has its own mores and values and your teen should know them. Over time they may discard some of what we say, ignore our rules and defy us but they should never be unclear about both your values and rules. Agree to the rules ahead of time - no alcohol or other drugs, or smoking. Be present, ask open ended questions and listen to what they say. Be mindful of the language you use and make positive remarks about your teen's behavior outnumber any negative comments ("catch them being good".)

  • Establish Consequences if your Teen Violates Your Agreements. Be a parent and not a pal. Local law enforcement officers often comment that when called, parents seem more concerned with the legal ramifications then on disciplining their teens. Set consequences which have a connection to the behavior or rule violation.

  • Give a Goodbye Reminder, Hello Hug or Good Night Kiss. Be around when they leave for a night out perhaps with a reminder of your rules and consequences. This will also ensure there is no "pre-gaming" at your home. After a teen's night out, parents should stay up to greet their child, look them in the eye and give them a hello hug or good night kiss (and a discreet sniff) when they come home. Have a conversation with them and try not to be asleep or out on the town yourself when they arrive.

  • Establish a Safe Ride/"No Questions Asked" Policy and an "Exit" Plan. Tell your teen that they can always call you for a safe ride home and there will be "no questions asked" -- and then perhaps ask the next morning! Review excuses that your teen can use to exit a risky situation, e.g., "my parents will kill me" or "I have to get up early in the morning". Consider writing a letter such as the one posted at here.

  • Postpone or Keep Track of Uber, Lyft or Taxi Rides. While certainly safer than driving drunk or drugged, these forms of transportation enable extreme levels of drinking and other drug use. Don't allow them for younger teens without driver's licenses when you can be driving them even if more convenient for you. For older teens, keep track of how frequently your teen is using them. Alarm bells should be ringing with regular use.

  • Don't Place Absolute Trust in Designated Drivers. Our California Healthy Kids Survey (CHKS) results show that too many so-called designated drivers are simply less drunk or high than their passengers (28% of 11 graders admit to driving under the influence or being a passenger in a car with a driver under the influence.) Moreover, many kids have the mistaken belief that driving stoned is slower and safer than driving drunk. Both are dangerous.

  • Stay Away from Party Buses. Just say "no" to this one as there are significant risks to party buses. Party buses enable extreme levels of partying. This past summer, police intercepted a typical party bus loaded with young teens and copious amounts alcohol, marijuana and prescription drugs. Read about it here. Note that this party bus incident was not an isolated one but rather was typical of buses rented in Marin for birthday parties, New Year's Eve and Prom. Alcohol and other drugs are smuggled into party buses in wrapped birthday gifts, water bottles, plastic flasks attached to underwear or concealed under clothing, backpacks, purses and pockets. Marin County's Superintendent of Schools Mary Jane Burke and Sheriff Robert Doyle said it best in their response to the incident: party buses are bad news. This opinion piece cites our BTI program and also has several excellent common sense suggestions that parents may use before allowing their teens to participate in social activities.

  • Be Mindful about Your Own Use: Model Responsibility and Moderation in Your Own Behavior. This may be the most important tip of all. While the BTI Commitment is about parenting teens and not policing adults, consider limiting your alcohol intake when around your teens (and younger kids). A glass or two with a meal isn't a parenting crime. Yet, when hosting or attending a child-related event, keep it alcohol free. Don't glamorize or brag about any of your past indiscretions, offer too much information about past drug use or comment how you need a drink or smoke to deal with a stressful day. Never drive while under the influence. Remember that while your teens may pretend not to hear you - they are listening and are watching your actions!

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