When I was in middle school, I attended a party at the home of the coolest girl in school. She ran with a fast crowd and rumor had it that she’d just signed with a modeling agency. On the night of the party, I put on my best Guess jeans and accessorized with my ESPRIT jacket and Liz Claiborne handbag. I was going to hang with the cool kids!
When I arrived, her mom greeted me at the door and ushered me to their backyard patio. As I looked around the pool area, I knew immediately that I was in over my head. Kids were scattered around the pool, smoking and drinking beer, and my teenage mind went into overdrive.
My dad would drink a Pabst Blue Ribbon when he watched car races on Sunday afternoons, and my parents enjoyed libations on date nights and at family get-togethers, but I’d had no exposure to drinking (or smoking) alongside them. They surely were not offering us their booze. Frankly, it had never occurred to me to drink a whole beer, much less have one away from my parent’s watchful eyes.
Thankfully, because my parents had always told me they’d pick me up anywhere, anytime, no questions asked, I was able to call my dad. Feigning an upset stomach, I said goodbye to that cool girl and her friends. As I waited for my dad on the curb, my eyes filled with tears of frustration. I felt so let down by the crowd that I had idolized. It was a tough lesson for my 14-year-old self.
Today, I am the parent of two teenagers, and I think of that night with the “cool” kids often. As I double- and triple-check on my kids and their plans for a Saturday night, I come back to the same question every time: What the hell were the cool girl’s parents thinking?
They openly and unabashedly served booze to underage minors. Yes, the argument can be made that the ’80s were a different time, and that parents were more permissive, but the fact remains: The drinking age in this country has been 21 since 1984. Those parents put all of those kids at risk simply because they wanted their daughter’s friends to feel grown up.
And I’m not willing to hear the “safe space” argument either. You don’t get to host an underage drinking party for someone else’s minor children and use the excuse that you would “rather have them under your roof than on the street” or some other such defense. You don’t get to make those choices on behalf of another parent.
Sorry, kids, but I don’t care enough about your social status to break the law. If that is what it takes to be the “cool” parent, I will never be the cool parent, the one who espouses the idea that if my kid is going to drink, it’s safer under my roof. I will proudly wear my “uncool parent” badge.
While it’s true that I want our home to be a safe space for our kids and their friends, I also want it to be a place where rules and boundaries (and laws!) are respected. It’s my job to teach my kids about responsible drinking and making good choices, and that means abiding by the laws of the land. Unless you are 21 years of age, you are not getting served booze in my home. No exceptions.
Further, laws have been passed to prevent parents from furnishing their children with alcohol, and there are stiff penalties for doing so. And by “stiff penalties,” I mean that parents can, and have, been sent to prison for breaking the minor-in-possession law. And parents can be prosecuted if they serve alcohol at a party in their home and someone is injured in a car accident on the way home. No way in hell am I going to the Big House so that my kids can look cool in front of their friends.
There are many parents who will continue to scream, “But I want my kid to learn about alcohol in my home!” and “Well, they are going to do it anyway. May as well be at my house!” and to those parents, I say, “BULLSHIT.” Kids learn by example — by watching their parents consume alcohol responsibly. Talking to your kids about alcohol often and early when they are young will open up a healthy dialogue. Answering their questions and leading by example will produce kids who will call you from a party when they are in over their head.
Serving alcohol to minors in your home sends the wrong signal to teens. It sends the message that they are above the laws and beyond reproach. Being permissive in your home with alcohol is a dangerous proposition, especially when you involve children who are not your own. I don’t openly judge parents for many things, but I do judge parents for serving alcohol to minors. It’s just stupid.
I have a ton of friends. Plenty, in fact. And that’s why I don’t care if my kids don’t like my rules. I’m not in this parenting game to be friends with my kids. I’m in it to make sure I raise responsible adults. And if that means that I have to be the party pooper, then so be it. I’m confident my kids will thank me some day.