Practical Tips for Prevention
None of us can predict when our teen will be introduced to alcohol or drugs, but we do know that it is at an age earlier than most parents think. The average age of first use for those students who drink in the Ithaca City School District is 12 years old. By far, the easiest places for kids to get alcohol is from homes, either yours or their friend’s. Here are tips to help keep kids safe and keep alcohol out of their hands.
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When Your Teen Goes Out
One of the most important ways to ensure your child's safety when he or she goes out is to get to know their friends and their families. Friendly relations make it easier for you to call the parent who is having a party, and to let them know you do not want alcohol available. Families can look to each other for support and guidance.
- Have family rules about teen drinking. Discuss why it's harmful for young people to drink or use drugs, and how to handle a situation where alcohol or other drugs are available. Don't be afraid of being a broken record; repetition helps. When your daughter or son goes out, remind them: “No drinking or drugs, call to let me know where you are, and be home by __.”
- Who's driving? If you aren't the driver, know who will be driving your teen, and get assurance that the person will be sober. If your teen is the driver, ask for verbal assurance that he or she will drive safely and will not be drinking or doing drugs. Also, beware of too many kids in the car or other distractions for drivers.
- Stay in touch! Using their cell phones to connect, young people often go from place to place during one evening. Know where your teen is headed when he or she leaves the house, and for how long she or he expects to be there. Let your teen know that you expect a phone call and another name and address if he or she is going somewhere else.
- Curfew Agree on what time she or he is expected to be home. Call your child if s/he is late. When you stay awake or have your son or daughter awaken you when she or he gets home, they will know you care about keeping their agreement. And it gives you a chance to talk or check for signs of drug use.
- Sleep-Overs Do not allow spontaneous sleep-over arrangements unless you speak with the host-parents to verify that they want your child to stay over and that they are at home.
- Emergency Plan Assure your teen that you can be called for a ride home at any time, with no questions asked until morning.
- Put it in writing Some parents use a written and signed contract to underscore the importance of safety. A sample contract about drinking and driving is at Making a Contract.
When the Party's at Your House
So your adolescent wants to have a party – that’s great! Parties are important opportunities for socializing, relaxing and having fun. The whole community benefits when homes are welcoming, drug-free spaces for adolescents to hang-out or to celebrate. A successful party that is both fun and safe takes thoughtful planning and mutual agreement. Experienced parents and caregivers suggest these guidelines.
- Agree to ground rules Discuss the ground rules with your teen. Your child needs to know what you expect and why there must be clear restrictions prohibiting alcohol and other drugs. It is both illegal and dangerous to furnish alcohol and other drugs to minors in your home, and you could be charged in criminal or civil court if you do so.
This is also a good time to make it clear that no parties are allowed when parents or responsible adults aren't at home.
- Have co-hosts Encourage your teen to plan the party with one or more responsible friends so he or she will have support if problems arise.
- How many to invite? Agree on a guest list and the number of young people to be invited– and be prepared to deal with party crashers. Try to avoid wide-spread IM invitations that can lead to big groups and little control over who comes. Decide together what the arrival and departure times should be.
- Make it fun! Encourage your teen to plan fun activities and to select music ahead of time. You might make space for dancing; some people like to show movies. Agree on what parts of the house will be used for the party, both indoors and outside.
- Remove alcohol If you have alcohol in your home, move it away from areas that are easily accessible by the young people.
- Appealing food Serve plenty of food and non-alcoholic drinks.
- Stay at home Make sure you are at home for the entire time. You might ask the parents of one of your teen's friends to join you. Be occasionally visible (re-supplying food or drinks, for example), but don’t join the party.
- Be alert Your child must agree to let you know if s/he sees signs of alcohol or other drug use by teenagers at the party. If a guest brings alcohol into your house, ask him or her to leave. Do not let anyone drive under the influence of alcohol or other drugs. You can call a cab, call their parents, or ask a sober adult to give the youth a ride home.
Making a Contract
Here is an example of a contract from the website of MADD, Mothers Against Drunk Driving. It was originally designed for prom and graduation season, but can be easily adapted for any time of year.
Contract of Agreement
Because it is illegal, I promise not to drink alcohol, particularly during the dangerous prom and graduation season. I commit myself to celebrating in a safe and healthy way. I pledge not to get in a car with someone who has been drinking alcohol. If I find myself in a situation where I feel unsafe or uncomfortable, I promise to call you, my parent or guardian, for a ride home. I commit to this pledge and recognize there are consequences for every decision I make.
As your parent/guardian, I promise to make myself available to you during this season of celebration. You can count on me any time day or night. I promise that I will agree to pick you up, no immediate questions asked. When we are safe at home, I pledge to respect you and listen to what has happened and help in any way I can.
GrassRoots and other events
The music and social scene at GrassRoots Festival is an irresistible draw for many of our kids, and for most of the youth who attend, the Festival is a wonderful and worthwhile experience. But GrassRoots — and the State Fair, other festivals, or even backyard parties — is not without temptation and opportunity for risky behavior. As a parent, it's important to help teenagers look ahead at how to deal with these challenges and make responsible choices.
First, be realistic. Although the sale of alcohol is prohibited at GrassRoots, adults are permitted to bring it in for their own use, and many people do. And, as should be expected at any large festival anywhere in the country, marijuana and other illegal drugs are also present. Like everywhere else, they are illegal at GrassRoots.
GrassRoots Festival has rules which are posted at each entrance. They hire professional security both to assure safety and to enforce the rules. All backpacks, coolers, and vehicles coming into the camping area will be checked. Festival-goers are “carded” at the gate and teens ages 13-17 must provide the name, address and phone number of a responsible adult before they go in. Everyone inside the gates must wear a wristband and the wristband color will identifies all attendees under age 21. This policy assists security personnel who watch for underage drinking. Youth who break the law can be removed from the Festival. (However, in an informal survey of 148 high school students from 2 Tompkins County high schoolers (March/April, 2010), 66% of youth who had attended GrassRoots had used alcohol there.)
When is a teen old enough to go with friends to the Festival? That's up to you and your judgment on how responsible you know your child to be. The best advice: go to GrassRoots with your teen. Ticket prices may seem expensive, but if they´re out of your range, you can get in free by working as a volunteer during the 4-day period (only 9 hours total time if you do trash duty.) This is a great way to experience GrassRoots and help at the same time.
The answer to “Can I go?” shouldn't be a quick “yes” or “no”, but rather an opportunity to talk about the importance of avoiding alcohol and drug use, and thinking together about what is required for responsible independence. Whether or not you attend the Festival, here are some questions to discuss with your teen as you ponder your decisions. Gradual steps of letting go, with careful monitoring, make the most sense.
Questions to set boundaries or conditions:
* Would your teen be there during the day or after dark? How late can they stay?
* Who are your teen's friends? Do they make good choices and stick together?
* Who would be driving? Can you be assured the person will be sober?
* How would your teen handle a situation if s/he is offered alcohol or other drugs?
Questions to maintain connection and plan for "what if?":
* How would you and your teen maintain contact, and how often? (cell phones work from the Festival grounds.)
* Can you identify another adult (perhaps another parent) who would be present and available if needed?
* What if your teen wants to leave? (Are you available for picking up?)
Be cautious about camping. Parents should be most careful with decisions about staying overnight, in part because the camping area is the hardest for security or other adults to monitor. Some parents make the camping area out-of-bounds, day or night. By dealing with this question in advance you can avoid a late night call begging for permission to stay over.
We all enjoy opportunities for socializing, relaxing and having fun. Whether you allow your children to go to GrassRoots or other festivals or parties is up to you. The most important thing is to talk with your teen about making healthy and safe choices, in this and in all situations.